Read Part 2: Hamer Time
Read Part 5: Coffee, Karo Tribe and Market
Leaving Turmi behind, we made our way through the beautiful southern highlands of Ethiopia towards the town of Jinka. We picked up our guide, Bereket and made our way through the green but dusty landscape of Mago National Park towards the land of the Mursi. The Mursi are known are fierce warriors, with bad tempers. Our driver had been dropping hints all week that it would be difficult to interact with them because they have very different social skills than other tribes, are much more in your face and generally a little abrasive. I was a little worried to be honest.
The above photos show the mountain pass we started in, then the flat lowlands we traversed before finally climbing up again towards the highland areas where the Mursis live.
When we arrived, we were blown away by how excited all the kids were at our presence. It wasn’t scary at all. Of all of the tribes we interacted with, the Mursis were probably my favourite. The kids were little munchkins- we played with them for hours- twirling the little ones in the air and playing it cool with the teenagers. It’s true that they were a little different- at one point, adults and children lined up to pull my shirt down and look at my breasts. At another point, one of the kids was playing with my eyelashes and showing that she had none (I think it’s a ritual- they had no body hair whatsoever). When I batted my eyelashes, she promptly took a few of them in her hands and pulled them out! I was very shocked. All of the other kids were very excited by this performance and promptly all tried to grab my eyelashes after that. I had to make it clear that it was not ok.
The women were shyer but were also friendly. I went into some compounds and helped to grind up some maize for their dinner. Although many of the older women had stretched lips (Mursi consider wearing lip-plates very beautiful), most of them were not wearing them. So their lips would dangle and occasionally they would drink water which would dribble down their chins. Other times, the older ones would pop in their lip plate and out again while I watched in fascination. They really loved making me laugh.
Some of the men were also around since we were camping, we got to interact with them. Many of the men spoke Amharic and I got a few marriage proposals 😛 One of the men offered 10 cows to marry me. I did think I was worth more than that and the other men laughed really hard that my refusal. The Chief wondering if his 110 cows would be enough. I had to think about that one! But I had to be firm and tell them that I was there with my husband. Throughout our stay, random men would come up and ask me if R was really my husband and I would have to be very firm and say ‘yes’ he is! Sorry! It was nice to be able to speak to them and joke with them. I had running jokes with at least 3 of the guys and it created a sense of camaraderie that I didn’t experience with any of the other tribes. What I found most interesting is how confused they were about my identity. I look habesha (that is ethiopian due to my skin colour) but I’m not Habesha and I am a foreigner, with a foreigner husband. But I speak amharic (ha- my limited amharic seemed to be enough for them). I tried explaining that my parents come from another country where people are dark, like habesha, but that I moved and grew up in Canada. We had actually brought some photos from Newfoundland- of whales and icebergs- and tried explaining these things to them to no avail. Some of them understood the gist of it but couldn’t really place me at all. This also contributed to a very interesting experience for me.
Night time was amazing. Although we didn’t go into the village (mistake- we weren’t sure we would be welcome), as we were going to sleep in our tent, the full moon was shining bright and the whole village started to sing. One household at a time- the men sang one tune and the women responded in perfect harmony. It gives me chills to think about it still. They kept up songs- first joyful then mournful and then almost like a lullaby and then the voices died one by one, like a beautiful choir just for us. It was the most magical moment of the trip for me.
The next day, we woke up and left early for a long trip back to Arba Minch- through the southern highlands and some stunning scenery and then back home. But our time with the Mursi remains a highlight and an encounter that I’m not likely to forget anytime soon.