National Geographic : 2010 Mar
said, Take this and go hunting for me. They placed orders for meat or skins. But the task of avenging his father's murder still lay ahead. Rela- tives, friends, and elders urged him to set things right. You're a strong hunter, people said. When will you go a er your father's killer? change is coming to the Omo: In the wilderness, amid swirling dust and the gnawing sounds of heavy machinery, a dam is being built 320 miles upriver from the Kara homeland. e construction site is enormous, with camps, bunkhouses, cookhouses, and winding service roads. e dam, called Gilgel Gibe III, will be one of the largest dams in the world. It will create an equally massive reser- voir, and the water will be used to generate up to 1,870 megawatts of power that Ethiopia plans to sell to energy-strapped neighbors, such as Kenya and Sudan. It is not scheduled for completion until 2013, but contracts have al- ready been signed. Gibe III will bring cash to Ethiopia and produce much needed electricity in a country where only 33 percent of the population has electrical pow- er. But it will also reduce the river's ow and tame the sea- sons of ood and recession that the tribes living downstream, such as the Kara, the Nyangatom, and others, rely on to nourish their crops. e indigenous tribes have little power to oppose a project that has o cial blessings and massive momentum. Many are unaware of the dam's potential to transform their lives; many others support the government, even if they do not fully understand its plans. In Dunga's village each month around the new moon, near where the Omo River empties into Lake Turkana, the man who speaks to crocodiles descends in darkness to perform a short cere- mony that protects his people from the massive creatures that cruise the Omo. He carries a bun- dle of leafy branches, dips them into the water, then shakes them upriver and downriver, while speaking with an authority not given by men. "You, crocodiles! Listen! is place is mine, from my father, from my father's father. Stay away from here. Let my people and their herds come down to drink, and let the children swim. If you come close, my bullets will nd you!" He then lays the branches on the mud and steps down into the black water, joining its silt and its secrets, and he bathes. e man has a special relationship with the ancient reptiles, as his father did before him. e ties between human clan and crocodile are strong and deep. e crocodiles even speak to him in his dreams. "What do they tell you?" I ask. " at is none of your business," he replies. Whatever the crocodiles tell, they also listen, for as far back as collective memory reaches, no crocodile has taken a human below the vil- lage. A wave of nods from old men arranged in a circle around us on their wooden stools attest to this truth. "What about the pregnant woman who was killed last year?" "Well. She didn't listen." e man waves his hand downriver. "She was killed over there. I do not protect that place." e elders nod, the caveat is plain. e wom- an had strayed onto someone else's property. I ask the man about Gibe III. Suddenly the scene changes, as it always does when I mention the dam. A crowd presses in. Some have heard of this thing. e man asks, "What, exactly, is a dam?" And then they all want to know what it will do to their lives. controlled land on both sides of the Omo River, but gradually the Nyangatom pushed them across to only the eastern side. A seminomadic tribe from southwestern Ethiopia, the Nyangatom were one of the rst groups in the region to gain access to automatic rifles, mostly from Sudan. During the 1980s and '90s they enlarged their territory, bullying neighbors, like the Kara, who still carried spears. Their population grew. They began changing the order of the Omo. The Kara didn't give up territory easily, however. By Dunga's last years of secondary school, most Omo tribes had guns, and tensions boiled. e Ethiopian government did little to I ask the king why, if he can summon rain, he has not done it earlier to avoid the looming drought.