Wildlife photographer and conservationist Latika Nathstumbled upon the river and valley of Omo during a quest for the Ethiopian wolf. The result was a series of striking photographs revealing the life and spirit of eight primaeval tribes who call the valley home.
I went to Ethiopia to photograph the rarest wolf in the world and discovered River Omo, the largest Ethiopian river outside the Nile Basin. Sustaining on this river and living in and around the Mago and Omo National Parks are some of the oldest tribes known to man. These eight tribes of Ethiopia—Hamer, Bana, Mursi, Suri, Kara, Dassanech, Arbore, and Nyangatom—make up only about 2,00,000 people combined. And yet, they are endlessly fascinating. Their lives have remained virtually unchanged for over a century, but with development knocking at the doorstep, the tribes are facing challenges they had never imagined.
I visited Omo multiple times over two years and documented these tribes’ ways—donga stick fights, bull jumping, unique habits like blood-drinking, body decoration, dances, rituals and ceremonies, and architecture. Despite having little contact with technology and the outside world, the tribespeople possessed modern weapons and ammunition, including AK-47 rifles! Over 50,000 photographs later, I created a unique record of the beauty and dignity of these communities that live in harmony with the river. These photographs are part of my book titled Omo-Where Time Stood Still.
I also studied the fascinating fashion trends of the inhabitants of Omo. Broken watch straps are de rigueur for the fashionista here, while gas pipes, bottle caps, plastic tubes, keys, and even bicycle chains become fashion accessories. Colourful metal bullets are melted and transformed into bangles and earrings, and headgear is devised from flowers, fruits, and leaves. Beads are an essential part of jewellery, and goat and cheetah skin are painstakingly embroidered to create unique outfits; ash and thorns are used to create intricate and elaborate keloid scars—to decorate bodies.
From the breathtaking landscapes of Omo to men and women of extraordinary beauty and children who are masters of body art, these photographs take me back to a unique adventure in that obscure valley of Ethiopia. I hope they will do the same for you.