National Geographic : 2010 Mar
• are golden with the stubble of past harvests or sheathed in the moist green of new crops. Dus lies three hours by truck from the near- est road, and in the wet season it is islanded in a sea of mud. Like many settlements along the Omo, the village is a cluster of huts with goat pens and grain cribs set at the periphery, every- thing sun bleached, everything washed in dust. Some days dust devils gather outside the village, pacing in the bush like malevolent spirits, spit- ting soil into the air. Cattle and goats are a family's most meaning- ful possessions here, but it is the crops, nour- ished by the Omo River, that sustain the people of Dus and other villages. A er the Omo's sea- sonal oods soak and replenish the riverbanks, Kara farmers pierce the dark mud with sticks and drop in seeds of sorghum or corn. It is simple, ancient, little di erent from what the Egyptians did along the Nile. If the oods are meager, the harvest is poor, but the system has kept the Kara here for a long time. e river's predictability allows the 2,000 or so Kara a life without the restless movement of some of their neighbors, who must constantly drive their ani- mals to new pasture. e name of the village--- Dus---means, roughly, "I have seen other places, but it is good here. I'll stay." For generations the tribes of the Omo were shielded from the outside world by mountains, savanna, and by Ethiopia's unique status as the only African nation never to have been colo- nized by Europeans. In the late 1960s and '70s, anthropologists began recognizing what that meant---people living near the river had largely escaped the colonial blundering and con ict that shredded other societies. The tribes re- mained intact, migrating, warring, and making peace in ways that had vanished almost every- where else. Hints of this Africa still appear in the ornamental clay lip plates worn as symbols of beauty by Mursi women or in the seasonal dueling contests of the Suri, who tie on armor made of goat hide and fight each other with long poles. There is still the Hamar ritual in which women demand to be whipped until they bleed, and there's the cattle-jumping initiation rite, in which boys run along the backs of cattle to prove they are ready for manhood. Today the Omo Valley is a destination for wealthy tourists who cross vast, uncomfortable distances to witness those same rituals---van- loads of white faces, most from Europe, hop- ing for something of the Africa that exists in the Western imagination, all wild animals and face paint and dancing. Tourists say they have come to see the Omo before it becomes like ev- erywhere else, as though a McDonald's might suddenly descend from the sky. Yet it's true: e Omo region, still one of Af- rica's most intact cultural landscapes, is chang- ing. e big game are mostly gone, hunted out with weapons that ow in from wars across the borders in Sudan or Somalia. Aid organizations deliver food, build schools, and plan irrigation projects, all of which make life more stable but inevitably, unstoppably, change the way it has long been lived. The govern- ment, which for generations essentially ignored this place, now works to modernize Omo tribes, and some o cials speak as if timetables have been drawn up describing exactly when and how the old ways will be replaced. Not long before my visit, government representatives of- fered new incentives to tame the warring tribes and incorporate them into the nation. Blood feuds, like the one tugging at Dunga Nakuwa, are meant to be a thing of the past. that betrayed Dunga's se- cret. When he disappeared, leaving his family's herd in the bush, the beasts circled around and grazed their way home, a cloud of dust rising behind them. At the village, Dunga's brother, Kornan, was surprised the animals were return- ing so soon---without Dunga. is was in the late 1980s or early 1990s. Li- ons, leopards, and hyenas roamed the savanna. Elephants and bu alo occasionally came bull- dozing out of the bush. Enemy tribes patrolled it too: The Nyangatom, the people who had killed the brothers' father, had been pushing into the area, armed with automatic ri es. Since their father's murder, Kornan had taken charge of family matters, but he wasn't worried about When I mention the dam, a crowd presses in. Some have heard of this thing. "What, exactly, is a dam?"