Departing Jinka we headed south and then west through Mago National Park to visit a Mursi tribe who had been relocated by the government and moved from the park to the surrounding hills and mountains outside of the western edge of the park.
Ten years ago and even up to three years ago the park had healthy populations of lion, leopard, elephant, bush buck, waterbuck and several other mammal species but because of severe poaching and hunting by the Mursi the few animals that survived have moved to Kenya so there is virtually no wildlife left except for a few guinea fowl and Dik-dik, a small antelope that lives in the bushlands of southern and eastern Africa.
The views from the mountains heading down into African savanna was spectacular but somehow sterile.
After ascending the hills outside of the park we turned onto the first side road we came upon and headed to an “authentic Mursi village” where we parked our vehicle essentially in a parking lot outside of a large fenced-in area.
Before entering the village we were told it would cost us 200 Birr for each camera and we could then take as many pictures as we like. This was to be paid to the village leader. Fair enough I guess.
We entered the village and were met by armed militia milling around, Russian Kalashnikovs hung over their shoulders. We were later told the villagers get quite drunk later in the afternoon and the militias are there to keep the peace. I’m really not so sure about that.
The village seemed to be set up exclusively for tourists. There were thatched huts scattered around a mud field, the women sat around making lip plates and everyone tried to sell you these painted plates. There didn’t seem to be any indication of a functional village.
Our guess is the people in the village make their way to this set-up village every day to sell their souvenirs and then make their way back to the actual village(s) they live in. It was a set-up and we could see it for what it was as soon as we entered the compound.
Later in the evening we met a fellow from Poland who did the same drive to the area but rather than take the first turn he went further and did visit a real Mursi village. He said it was full of cow shit and flies and was not a pretty sight. We would rather have seen that than the tourist trap we saw. It was a four return hour journey to make the visit.
The people of the Omo Valley rely on the natural flood cycles of the river for sustainable practices of flood-recession farming, fishing and livestock grazing. With the loss of the natural balance, harvesting and grazing areas have been reduced forcing the area tribes to move into Mago National Park which is creating conflict with the soldiers charged with protecting the park and the little wildlife that is left and there have been reports of deaths of these pastoralists because of this conflict.
Tourism is helping by supplying another revenue stream but with tourism comes serious challenges to balance a way of life without selling out to the almighty dollar.
The Mursi people have serious challenges however their journey could be a showcase of what can be done if the people can come together. A big IF!
No one should have to sell their dignity and be put on display to foreigners for a few dollars. I don’t know the solution but I do know mass tourism will only make matters worse for these people if they end up relying on welfare and then falling into a welfare trap.
A little bothered by the whole set up we headed back through the park and made our way to Turmi.