The girl was tall, elegant and she walked with pride. Her hair was coppery coloured, a symbol of the Hamar Tribe.
A binding resin mixed with ochre formed her distinctive hairstyle. Her clothes were spartan and made from animal skins. She wore decorative bracelets and iron armlets. Her necklace, made of coloured beads, completed her attire. She made eye contact with my lens and the light reflected from her clear white eyes.
The whistling sound attracted my attention. The stick cut through the air and made a solid impact on her bare back; her skin broke, the blood flowed. The deep scars were telling signs of a custom alien to all I stood for. The pain must have been intense but she didn’t flinch. She taunted her torturer, a family member. She invited more. Again the rod sliced through her skin with the precision of a surgeon’s blade. She wore her scars with pride. These were her badges of honour. Her suffering was a symbol of love, a blood bond with her brother, a youth on the cusp of manhood. He was about to be initiated into the tribe by ‘Jumping the Bulls’.
He stood naked as he faced a wall of twenty bulls. Two men anchored each beast’s head and tail. The Villagers formed a circle around the scene. The women gyrated, sang and moved as one. The village elders ensured that customs were upheld. He sprinted, jumped and ran on the backs of the wild animals. He smiled as he leapt from the final one. Three times he repeated the task. His joy was evident; the scene turned into frenzy, the elders approved. He was a man at last.
What future for this new warrior? What battles lie ahead? Will his ancient customs and traditions remain intact? What signs of modernity? The Kalashnikov has replaced his Bow & Arrow and Spear. Is he aware that the Omo River is threatened by the construction of a Dam? Does he know that his tribe may be displaced? Does he know that he is a new member of the Vanishing Tribes of Ethiopia?
For the moment he stands tall and proud, with the confidence of a man. His right of passage is complete, the festive chants begin and the loud drumbeat vibrates across the land once described as the ‘cradle of mankind’.