Life with 4 kids 6 and under. Our trip to pick up Tonito in China is: mid-March 2008 through April 12. Our trips to pick up Ricky in Ethiopia are in June and August of 2010.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Mago National Park and Mursi village

We woke up tangled in our mosquito net, listening to the mosque’s early call to prayer. Our hotel has a little courtyard with wrought iron chairs and tables for the restaurant, shadowed by pergolas, bowing under the weight of fuchsia bougainvillea. The other big group of tourists was there outside of our window, snipping at their guide. I am really thankful that we are not traveling with them!!! They tend to complain a lot, and do not treat the Ethiopians respectfully- it is embarrassing. We already didn’t like the arrogant one because he told us he would never travel in Latin America because it is too monotonous- good, stay home!
After a quick breakfast of bread and tantalizing coffee, we headed out in the 4x4 to the town center to pick up our compulsory guide. Even though the local guides are supposed to be assigned randomly, when Yosef went into the offices, he saw his favorite guide and asked him to come with us. We are so, so, so thankful that Yosef is our guide! He handpicked a 22 year old student named Awonde who turned out to be friendly (with everyone- he seemed to know the whole town), knowledgeable, respected (even among the Musi), interesting and very fun. If you ever go to Jinka, look for Awonde (pronounced ah-when-day) in the local guides- he is amazing.

We left Jinka, and headed towards the Mago National Park. Driving through the green mountains, I felt like I was in the Costa Rican rain forest. The vegetation is only slightly different, but humidity and intense shades of green are the same. The Mago National Park was created to protect the lions, elephants, leopards, giraffes, buffalos, etc that lived there in the past. However, because of poaching (and just regular hunting), most of the animals are long gone. What abounds are the little dik-diks, and we saw plenty! Yosef said that if you go down into the forest by the water you can see buffalo and zebras. We did see several “lesser kudu” (which reminded me of deer), lots of jigra pairs with their babies (a black and blue bird that reminded me of quail), and on the way home we saw a whole troop of Colobus monkeys- black and white monkeys that leapt from tree to tree. Of course most of the wildlife were impossible to capture in pictures.

Jigra with their babies, and waaaaaaaaaaaaaay far down is a lesser Kudu:

Lots of dik-diks! Plus a random shepherd..

Ritual scarring was quite shocking at first, but once the awe wore off it really was beautiful. You can see the pattern on his arm/shoulder. If you click on the photo I believe it will get larger. The picture on the right is the Mursi village we visited.

Among the 6000+ Mursi, there are 8 villages spread out in the mountains of Mago Park. We asked to only see one village, and Awonde took us to the most friendly of the villages- where everyone knew him and seemed to really like him. This was a huge advantage for us, because the Mursi are known to be quite aggressive, with good reason. They were in an uncomfortable situation, and turned it around to a less comfortable situation from which they would achieve some benefits- mainly, payment for photos. While both parties still may feel taken advantage of, each gains something in the interaction.
The Mursi tribe is the most demanding of payment for photos because they are seen by Westerners to be one of the most “primitive” tribes in the world. Half-naked, painted and scarred bodies, and huge clay disks in the lips and ears of the married women are evidently so unique, they attract tourists who obviously want to take pictures. At first the environment was tense and I felt very stressed- the entire village surrounded us and was begging for photos, grabbing us and demanding “3 birr photo,” trying to vie for our attention. I smiled at a little baby, and so all of the women with babies approached me asking for photos.
Awonde took charge and told everyone- first we would learn about the culture, the village, and traditions, and then he promised we would take pictures. I didn’t like the position the villagers were in: having to beg for photos, is essentially begging for money, except you have the added competition of who is deemed more “photogenic” by the tourist. It is all very grey and weird- I don’t really have the words to express how I felt. I was happy to give some money to the moms with the babies though.
Here are some newlyweds. I believe that she is still stretching out her lip to make the circle bigger (to fit a larger clay disk).

Tonio and I each had at least 5 people holding onto us as we listened to Awonde explain the ritual scarring (decorative like our tattoos), and the enormous clay disks some women wear in their lips. I have always enjoyed anthropology, and I really enjoyed the learning part of the tour. We were told that a girl will start to cut her lip and begin to stretch it around age 15. When they marry at age 16-17, they wear their disk when serving food to men, or at special occasions such as weddings or dances. They do not wear it all the time, and in fact if their husband dies, they remove it forever and will never marry again (however a man can remarry if his wife dies). We saw several older women who wore their lips loose, without the clay disk. The government tried to stop the lip-cutting, and the Mursi swore they would never change their traditions. In fact they consider themselves almost like a country within a country, not participating in voting, and they also do not have schools of any kind. Our local guide tried to explain that bringing tourism to the Mursi tribes would enable them to maintain their traditions. He said he personally was sad to see some tribes disappear as they moved to the towns looking for income, and would melt into the local culture or worse- beg on the street for money.

The huts seemed similar to the many other straw/false banana huts we have seen, however our guide insisted that each tribe has a slightly different way of constructing them, with slightly different materials, and the trained eye can indeed identify to whom they belong (so we've been told). These huts do not have a mud/straw bottom, and are not built with false banana- just straw. They sleep 7-8 people (one family) per hut, and a man can have up to 4 wives (with each wife and her children in a different hut). When a guy wants to marry a girl, she will first ask him if he owns a gun, because a gun is the biggest sign of wealth. The Mursi only marry within the Mursi culture, which is different from all of the other tribes we saw that do intermarry among their neighbors from different tribal nationalities. To get married, the man gives his wife’s family 35 cows as a sort of a dowry. Unlike many cultures of the world, families rejoice when daughters are born, because they know they will get 35 cows per daughter. However, we were told “they are sad when sons are born” because obviously they will be giving away 35 cows. A son is only truly welcomed after a couple of daughters are born- not what we expected!

The Mursi people are mainly cattle herders, and have hundreds of cows that they keep up in the lush mountains. They check on them every couple of days because it takes hours to reach them. To mark their cows, they might scar them on their sides, or cut notches into their ears. To earn money, they sell their cattle at the market in Jinka, which takes 2 days walking in one direction. We were told that this is when the gun comes in handy- for protection from large animals. I tried to ask what type of “large animal” would attack them in Mago Park, but he just smiled and showed me with his arms an ambiguous “large animal.” They also earn a lot of money from the tourists, and use this to buy sorghum, alcohol, and soap at the market (not necessarily in that order). The huts were quite bare, and you could see that the Mursi didn’t really have possessions other than their livestock and their guns.
They did however value their jewelry and beautifully decorated goat-skin skirts. The bracelets are made of bullets (that are melted down and somehow formed into oval rings) and show wealth. Some of the men and women have 20+ bracelets on their arms and legs. Later this day in the Jinka market, we bought some bracelets from some Mursi: from their arm to my arm, I am taking home a little piece of Mursi culture that will remind me of our amazing adventure here. I bought some for Vivi and Maya too!
After the tour of the small village on the mountain, we took some pictures with extremely willing people (the pictures above). It was a little like a competition to see who was going to be chosen and I was uncomfortable having to decide- almost like a judge in a beauty contest. But the mood lightened when I let one of the young women take my camera and play with it. I showed her how to take a picture, and then view her product- magic! Immediately they all wanted to try, and all wanted to pose. Here they start:
The stress of the situation instantly dissipated and laughter filled the village. Seriously- the self-proclaimed photographer would position me in front of their hut, and take my picture, others would crowd around the camera to see the image, and burst out laughing. Then a guy came and shook his head- he took me and put me in front of his corn plants and took a picture. When he saw the digital image of his crops, his whole face brightened- you could tell what he was proud of! The camera was a way for them to see themselves, in a village of no mirrors. As they snapped pictures and pictures of me, I would charge them “3 birr!!! No, 5 birr!”- a joke that had them cracking up even though we didn’t speak the same language. Hehe, I still remember the old man laughing at my price. They say that humor doesn’t translate, but both sides were repeating the joke and laughing again and again. This was the highlight of our visit with the Mursi!
I have about 100 of these pictures of us, taken by the Mursi:
One of the many pictures where they were placing me in front of different backdrops in the village. I couldn't stop laughing at this point...
Awonde (our Jinka guide) is in orange, having fun with our video camera. I can't wait to see the footage! Our Mursi guide is the guy in a blue/yellow shirt with a rifle slung over his shoulder.

Finally it was time to go. We drove back through the Mago Park, admiring the colorful butterflies fluttering above the puddles. The clay road was a red ribbon curling through the velvet green forest. We saw a troop of black and white colobus monkeys leaping through the trees and screeching at us- as if demanding some birr for our photos! Another troop of monkeys ignored our attempts to photograph them. The picture on the right is a local "greenhouse"-- filled with coffee plants! If you remember from your trips to Starbucks, Ethiopian coffee is quite delicious! It is also a great way for families to supplement their income because a small coffee plant does not take up much room, and must be picked by hand anyway. So do like Vivi says- buy Ethiopian coffee, not Madagascaran coffee (where they are cutting down trees- ie lemur homes- to plant huge tracts of coffee for export).


Ruthanne said...

Amazing!! I want to go back to Ethiopia sooo bad and I want to go with you. lol You had such an impact on that tribe that day with your that will make it easier for others to visit, I'm sure.

deanna willett said...

These pictures just blow me away! That has got to be such an awesome experience. UH OH!! Angelica seen your blog and wants to watch the "ung fu" video.

MRK said...

So glad you have all of this amazing info and photos up for all of us to see. A cup of Ethiopian coffee and a read of your blog have put me in a better mood to get things accomplished around here today! I'm going to need to get Yosef's contact info from you! (You may have put it up in the Yahoo Group already...I'll check).

Thanks again for helping me out last week!

Bob said...

Wow! These pics are awesome. You definitely have to give us your tour info for our trip!

Narendrakumar Pasi said...

पर्यावरण पसन्द जीवन । पर उस देश कि सरकारे इन आदिवासियो के लिए कुछ विषेश नही कर रही है ।

Narendrakumar Pasi said...

Life like environment. The governments of these tribals on land that is not something special.

Nelson Mochilero said...

This is an incredible experience. I'd like to see more information to make a visit from my own.
Great pictures!