The extraordinary people of the Omo River Delta in Ethiopia

Dancing men of the Kara tribe

The breeze cresting the banks of the mighty Omo River cooled the air as we cruised upstream to our destination: Lale’s Camp on the banks of this winding tributary to the Lake Turkana – Africa’s evocative Jade Sea. Carmine bee-eaters danced midair as they whisked in and out of their homes in the walls of the banks as crocodiles watched malevolently from the sand bars below. 

Even for a seasoned safari guide, a journey into this part of Ethiopia is truly like stepping back in time. Striking, semi-naked figures decorated with splendid scarification proudly stride the plains alongside the watery lifeline as we neared camp. These were the Kara, the Nyangatom, the Mursi, and the Hammar. An impressively diverse medley of tribal groups who’ve made this place home. 

Lale’s Camp is nestled amongst a forest of fig trees near the river, and Lale himself greeted us warmly and was an exceptional host for the duration of our stay. With Colobus monkeys cavorting in the canopy above, and the sun setting off to the west, we soaked up the remote and comforting ambience of this unique destination. 

Perhaps the most incredible interaction was with the Mursi tribe, whose lip-plates and extensive body scarring provides such a novel mix of shock, awe, and, ultimately, admiration for a people who’ve carved a living between the Omo’s silty shores and their highland farms. What was so special about our visit was having the time to fully immerse ourselves in the surroundings and to spend time with them. The polaroid camera I brought along provided huge laughs as the men and women looked with astonishment at their own images appearing. Such genuine banter and fun, and the fact that we were so remote from where 99% of other visitors go, ensured this was a really impressive cultural highlight. 

Another very memorable occasion was the last evening in camp, when Lale took us to the village of the Kara people nearby camp. This is Lale’s tribe and as we arrived at sunset it seemed the entire extended family had turned up to perform incredibly passionate and colorful traditional dances. As we mixed in on the edge we were aware of how truly unobtrusive we were while they immersed in this magnificent display. Once again the authenticity of this resonated with us and we knew we were experiencing something significantly out of the ordinary.

The impressive body decoration of the Kara tribe
A Mursi woman
A Hammar woman and child
A Kara woman making a bracelet
Nyangatom women with their dwellings
Amongst the Kara