Trip Start Jul 10, 2006
69Trip End Dec 24, 2006
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The "wildlife" tourists really come here for are the Mursi people. The women wear round wooden (removable) plates in their grotesquely stretched lower lips, which requires knocking out the lower incisors. The origin of this practice is not clear, perhaps to deter abduction of the women (for wives or slaves) by other tribes. What sustains it? Could it be tradition? It could be, but if and when the tradition begins to seem insupportable, the 2 birr per photo from tourists will surely keep the practice going
The government still exerts little influence on this part of Ethiopia, and tribal feuds, which result in numerous deaths annually, are ongoing. Venturing into the territory of a neighbouring tribe during times of hostility can be fatal.
Today we drove 32 km on park tracks, taking 2 hours to reach the Mursi village. There were less than a dozen huts and maybe 40 people. We were the first tourists to arrive, but during the hour we were there several more Land Cruisers arrived, and we met more while returning. So the number of tourists on that day exceeded the number of Mursi.
The Mursi were somewhat fidgety and touchy-feely, but they didn't try to go into your pockets or feel your body parts, as we had been warned they might. The most they did was grab your arm and not let go when entreating a photo.
There are a few other Mursi villages that are inaccessible by vehicle. We had been told that this group migrated annually for traditional reasons, but it was pretty clear that they were located there for the tourists. Besides posing for photos they were selling lip-plates and other cultural items. While it might not be true to say that we regretted coming, we would have preferred if everyone (ourselves included) would agree to stay away. (I feel the same way about game parks, actually).
On the way back a Land Cruiser had stopped and there was a conversation between a Mursi man, a woman tourist, and a guide interpreting
Later we passed a boy beside the road who jumped up three times and held out his hand for money. Come on, we said, you can't expect even a Spanish tourist to pay for that. At least stretch out your lower lip and skip through it, or something.
On this day, and in fact throughout our 8-day tour, the five of us (including Antony) had an ongoing discussion about whether tourism is appropriate in a place like this, and if so how it should be organized. Bex and Zhou cited the Himba people in northern Namibia as an example of how it should be done. They live very traditionally, while welcoming tourists. When you visit you can have a conversation in which they explain their culture in a dignified way; an exchange of ideas. You pay a fee which is shared among the community, so that they aren't competing with each other for your attention and money (which the tribes we visited were clearly doing).