Photos: The amazing 500-year-old traditions of the Karo tribe which could be at risk

Travel: Incredible photos of the Ethiopian Karo tribe (Image: Mediadrum )

An American traveller was lucky enough to meet the incredible Karo Tribe, one of the smallest tribes in South Ethiopia who have been maintaining their traditional way of life for around 500 years. The tribe, which fluctuates between 1,000 and 2,000 group members, live along the Omo River and are known for their beautiful body artwork which they wear both as decoration and for battle.

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Made from a mix of ash and water, these intricate patterns are worn even by the smallest of tribe members.

Over the years the Karo people have lived on the surrounding agriculture and natural annual flooding of the nearby river.

Along with their time-honoured body paint, the tribe are also well known for their dancing.

Though largely isolated from modern society, the Karo tribe welcome foreign guests and are often keen to partake in photographs.

They are also known to craft jewellery from day-to-day items given to them by visitors. In one of the images, an elder woman even uses a drinks straw as jewellery.

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Travel: A tribeswoman in Ethiopia uses a straw as jewellery (Image: Mediadrum)

Male members of the tribe wear large clusters of beads around their neck, often signifying big game kills.

Meanwhile, scars and lacerations from ritual combats between clans, often after the harvest, become highly esteemed marks of valour and can help the men attract a woman.

These scars often symbolise that a man has taken on and defeated an enemy or a large animal.

Similarly, lacerations which are rubbed with ash and raised over time are deemed as marks of beauty on the females of the tribe.

Women inflict lacerations and cuts on their chests, stomachs, or backs using knives or razors, to produce intricate patterns of scars all for the purpose of beauty.

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In the images members of the tribe can be seen holding weapons, gifts they have been given over the last 50 years by foreign visitors and something they use to ward off enemy tribe or protect their much-loved cattle with.

Many of the weapons have also been filtered in due to conflict in surrounding countries such as Sudan and Somalia.

Jim Zuckerman, 72, from Franklin, USA captured these latest images and describes his time meeting the people of the Karo tribe as a “welcoming and friendly” experience.

He said: “The Karo were very welcoming and friendly, more so than most tribes.”

Travel: The male members of the tribe wear jewellery which often signifies big game kills (Image: Mediadrum)

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“They seemed like they enjoyed the attention of being photographed and liked seeing their images on the LCD screen on the back of my camera.

“They posed quite willingly and were very cooperative – I’d love to see them again.”

He continued: “The way the Karo decorate their faces and bodies is fascinating.

“They use a mixture of ash, animal fat, and water to create striking designs.

“Their body decorations are for two reasons – for beauty and for battle.

“The men decorate themselves brighter than the women so they look more attractive and courageous.

“In addition, tribal people are often very superstitious, and a painted warrior looks fearsome to outsiders.”

However, it seems the future is uncertain for the tribe, and the way of life could be set to change forever.

“The Karo is the smallest tribe in South Ethiopia fluctuating between 1000 and 2000. They live along the Omo River and practice ‘flood retreat cultivation’. This means they use the silt left by floodwaters that occur during the monsoon season to fertilise their crops,” said Mr Zuckerman.

“But recently the Ethiopian government, needing to create more electricity, built a dam on the Omo River.

“This affects the flooding of the river, and this, in turn, causes disruptions in the natural fertilisation of farmland as well as impacts the traditional flow of water to the tribes below the dam.”

Trending Travel: Even the youngest embers of the tribe wear war paint (Image: Getty Images)

Additionally, according to ArcGIS.com, much of the tribe’s farmland, home for their pride and joy cattle, is being sold to global companies.

Geographical information site ArcGIS.com claims: “Many international companies have been given fertile tribal land from the government to grow cash crops like palm oil and cotton, and for biofuels.”

A combination of fear of conflict, and the government fearing a loss in tribal tourism is cited by ArcGIS as a reason why the tribe may not be receiving aid or relocated to a new society.

Despite this, there is some hope for the tribespeople.

Though relocating may be a scary prospect, moving further upstream, past the Gibe III dam, could help aid their survival and allow them to keep their incredible, timeless traditions.

ArcGIS concludes: “As long as there are no war tribes further up the Omo river, this solution should work.

“The Karo tribespeople would only have to adapt slightly to a different way of life upstream as the river is much wider up past Gibe III.”