Faces of Omo

Faces of Omo

Faces of Omo

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Location: Omo Valley, Ethiopia
Date: January 2013
Photographer: Alexander Macfarlane

The Omo Valley in the far south of Ethiopia is an anthropologist’s dream. It is considered the last tribal area in Africa that remains largely untouched by influence from the outside world.

Driving through the fertile rolling hills of Konso in southern Ethiopia, the road dramatically descends into a vast valley. The Omo River cuts through it running to the edge of Ethiopia and spilling out into Lake Turkana in Kenya. As soon as you descend into the valley there is an instant feeling of entering another world. The lush green hills quickly change to flat and baron plains, the big sun fiercely harsh with little respite. As quickly as the landscape changes and perhaps more strikingly, the people change too.

Entering the Omo Valley is like stepping back in time, to a world where tribal customs have remained largely untouched for many centuries. However, the valley could be at a tipping point in its history. It remains to be seen for how much longer the traditional ways of life can resist the onslaught of modernity. The future of these tribes lies in the balance. A massive hydroelectric dam is under construction on the Omo River, which once completed will destroy the fragile environment of the tribes. In addition, new roads will bring more Ethiopians from elsewhere in the country, as well as more tourists from the outside world. In the towns local people now use mobile phones, listen to modern music and wear western clothes.

These photographs portray eight of the tribes that occupy the Omo Valley. Each tribe is startlingly unique, all proud of their language and culture. It is a harsh life, dependent on the climate of an inhospitable land. Constant territorial disputes and wars with neighbouring tribes are very real situations. The Omo Valley truly is a different world. However one senses that we are at the twilight of such an existence and that it surely won’t be long before modern Africa closes in.