The Karo of Ethiopia are among very few and rare tribes in the world today whose lives have not been changed by the modern world and its technology and are enjoying a unique way of life. The Karo Tribe is located along the southernmost of the Omo River in the southern part of Ethiopia. In the dry season its water dries up and visitors have to walk along the dry river bed in order to reach the villages.
The population of the Karo is only about 1,500 making it the smallest tribe in Ethiopia, the country with close to 80 tribes. Compared to their unfriendly neighbours, the Mursi, whom you can suspect of waking up one day to wipe out the whole of the Karo Tribe, their way of life, has remained unchanged for the past five centuries unlike the other tribes found in the Omo Valley. One may wonder about which aspect this is so.
The Karo people are popular for painting their bodies with clay soil of different colours. Men decorate the whole body while the women limit their decorations to the face. Although the paintings last a day only, they are proud of their appearance and happy to display their bravery.
The women wear skirts made from animal skins. They also use the animal skins to strap their babies to their backs. Their necks appear with brightly- coloured necklaces of beads. Their wrists are decorated with a number of loose bangles. Shiny, beady earrings hang down from perforated ears of girls and women. The hairstyle includes colouring their hair by mixing animal fat and clay.
Men ensure that their foreheads are shaved and the painting of the face is extended to their braided hair. Animal skins are also used to wrap around their waists. If their chests have marks of mutilation, it means they are brave warriors who have killed enemies during tribal fights.
Houses for the Kora are made of poles sunk into the ground leaving no spaces in between except at the entrance. They do not cover the poles with muddy clay or animal dung like the Maasai. Even their grass-thatched roofs remain undecorated.
The Karo keep livestock in the form of cattle and goats. The number of cattle has depleted due to tsetse flies in the area. Therefore, goats are more abundant in their villages. Fishing by both men and women enables the families to enjoy extra protein on a regular basis. Fish is in abundance when the Omo River gets flooded.
Agricultural activities have been embraced to supplement foodstuffs. The crops are grown along the banks of the Omo River to make use of the rich mineral deposits left by the flooding of the river. This accounts for successful harvests which make their storage sheds full. Crops grown include sorghum, maize and beans not forgetting cucumbers and pumpkins. During times of drought, the sorghum crop rescues the whole community from imminent hunger.
INITIATION OF BOYS INTO MANHOOD
Initiation ceremonies for passage into manhood and wedding ceremonies are celebrated with great pomp. Unlike their neighbours who test the bravery of boys on an individual basis, the Karo conduct the bravery tests in groups. Girls and women are gathered to witness one show of bravery by having the boys jump over six bulls in a row. The overcomers of this event are treated as heroes in the community. You can imagine how much practice goes into this activity privately as no boy would like to be labelled a coward in the community.
Almost everyone in the Kara community looks forward to the day of his or her own marriage. Indeed, it is a day of celebration making the bride and the bridegroom become the centre of attraction. Vows of loyalty to your spouse includes relatives who become willing to be beaten with strokes of a cane to show solidarity to such a cause. Other people would even show skin mutilations arising from such beatings. Loyalty to the spouses is of great importance as in-laws try to outwit one another with various actions.
OTHER BELIEFS AND CUSTOMS
The Karo believe in witchcraft. Witches and sorcerers are not blamed on the calamities or droughts that occur in the area. Instead, the blame is shifted to the birth of twins. The twins are not allowed to grow up together. One of them or both are killed.
When a child is born and the upper teeth come out or show up first, that child must be drowned in the river instantly because he or she shall be the cause of calamities of drought, deaths, diseases and hunger in the community. However, from 2012, all such deaths have been treated by the government of Ethiopia.
The Kara tribe contributes significantly to tourism in Ethiopia and the government should appreciate them by supporting them in every aspect of their lives. With the building of the dam in Ethiopia, the Omo Valley shall be affected. Therefore, the government can find them a similar location elsewhere. Then the Karo’s kind of life shall continue with very minimal changes to their lives.
MODERNITY CREEPING IN
Modernity into the Karos’ way of life is slowly creeping in. Guns among the men are becoming a common sight. They are used to protect their animals and to protect themselves from their enemies. Who knows what other things will modernize this isolated tribe. Your guess is as good as mine. Let us wait and see what the next decade has in store for them.