A voyage to Ethiopia in 2001 was a real gift to me, a photographer who specializes in taking pictures of tribal people in remote settings. With my guide and driver, I visited markets and engaged with women and children wearing little more than wild animal skins and other items of adornment. They would usually pose for me. When our jeep drove along the bumpy roads, men would often be walking, carrying only a rifle and a carved wooden headrest which are traditionally used to support their heads when sleeping in the bush while tending cattle. The headrests are useful to keep their necks off the dusty ground and keep the men’s elaborate head dresses intact. These men were often kind enough to let me take portraits of them before continuing their treks.
In the remote Omo Valley, the folks who booked my trip had a very small lodge in which I was to stay for a couple of nights. They arranged for their employees to perform a traditional dance for me to photograph. Before the dance could take place, the participants painted each other elaborately, a long process which I documented. Once done, they made a circle and, to the rhythms of local drums, began a spirited dance.
After about 15 minutes, a warrior carrying a rifle ran in, took aside the chief and spoke to him excitedly. Quickly the chief gathered the men around him and had an animated conversation, gesturing madly. Suddenly, in mid dance, the men all ran off with their guns. The perplexed women, who had continued dancing, suddenly realized half of the group was gone, and gathered to discuss among themselves what they should do. Then they also ran off unceremoniously. Within a few minutes the dancers were all gone, without so much as an explanation.
I sought out my guide and asked what had happened. “While the men were dancing and only one sentry was left to guard the cattle, another tribe came, and they are trying to steal them,” he said.
So much for art!