National Geographic : 1970 Feb
The salt beds themselves were created over millenniums by the evaporation of sea water; geologists have determined that this area was once an arm of the Red Sea. No one has ever probed to the bottom of Lake Karum's salt deposits, but estimates of their depth run to three miles and more. They provide pure white, ready-to-use salt for a large area of northeastern Africa, and a hard-earned living for scores of Danakil salt miners. The work at Lake Karum is divided among several groups of men. One group, armed with long sticks, separates and lifts the large slabs of salt from the ground (preceding page). Another group cuts the slabs roughly into manageable bricks, while a third group smooths the bricks into final shape. For a day's work, each miner receives 11/2 Ethiopian dollars (roughly 60 U. S. cents), one ambasha,or large loaf of Ethiopian bread, and one goatskin of water. Each caravan brings its own money, bread, and water to pay the miners, who live during long periods of work in the salt-block huts. Quickly now my fellow caravaneers load their camels and mules with salt bricks, pay 194 the Danakil workers, and are off on the return journey to the cool beckoning mountains in the west. In a few days' time we are back in Makale, a sizable town and the capital of Ethiopia's Tegre Province.* From here the salt will be sold throughout Ethiopia and in neighboring countries. Seeking the Fiercest Danakil My first encounter with the Danakil has left me perplexed, for I had read of them as a fierce, warlike people disdainful of work and not above an occasional bit of banditry. Yet the Danakil of the salt fields seem both gentle and industrious. Now, in Makale, I make plans to travel south to the Aussa sultanate, which borders on the French Territory of the Afars and the Issas (map, above). Here live the so-called Aussa Danakil, a people with a grim reputation for violence and hostility toward outsiders. I finally catch my first sight of the Aussa Danakil in the dusty, oppressive village of Tandaho. They are lean and handsome, but *See "Ethiopian Adventure," by Nathaniel T. Kenney, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, April 1965.