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Ethiopia is a land of extremes. It is home to a fascinating variety of tribes, the most famous being the Hamer, Karo, Bana and the Mursis – the latter known for their lip plates and body scarification. The Hamer, meanwhile, are most famous for their bull jumping ceremonies which mark the coming of age for a Hamer male.
Tourism in southern Ethiopia is highly contentious due to the manner in which it is conducted. All too frequently, tourists visit villages where interactions between the tourist and the tribes have been described as reducing the village into a zoo.
The other main criticism is that too little of the money from these tours go to the tribes themselves. Responsible operators are addressing these issues, working with tribes and educating tourists to behave in a respectful manner towards the tribes as well as working out a more equitable division of tourism income.
Courtship rituals in southern Ethiopia are ritualized and sometimes bloody. An example would be the donga amongst the Mursis. The men fight almost naked with barely any protection, in hopes of attracting the attention of women. The winner had the prerogative to choose a woman. Although women have the right to refuse, it is considered an honor to be chosen.
The above photo was taken before a donga ritual. Most dongas are off-limits to tourists. While some ‘show dongas’ have been known to be staged for the benefit of tourists, these are limited to only a few warriors. The real dongas are attended by many warriors, up to a 100, attract the most beautiful women in the tribe and require the consent of the tribal leaders.
The beadwork is amazing and whilst some are for sale in the local markets, the best variety aren’t.