The Karo Tribe of Ethiopia

To me, one of the most beautiful things about being African is being immersed in differences. Though we share a continent, Africa’s people have so many cultures and traditions to learn about. 

According to Nomad Africa, the Lower Omo Valley in southern Ethiopia is home to over a dozen different tribes, who have lived there for centuries. The Karo (or Kara), with a population of 1,000 to 2,000, is the smallest ethnic tribe in Ethiopia. 

Known for their attention to appearance, the Karo have extraordinary body and face painting rituals where they use colored ochre, white chalk, yellow mineral rock and other natural resources to paint themselves. Designs vary in content, from simple lines, dots and shapes to animal motifs and handprints. Men use clay to create elaborate hairstyles and headdresses that signify status, beauty and bravery. Male and female scarification also is a common practice both for its symbolism and aesthetic beauty. 

The Karo cultivate sorghum, corn, beans and pumpkins. Sorghum is a staple used to cook porridge, mixed with milk or water and is fermented to produce local beer for ceremonies.

The Karo traditionally practiced “flood retreat agriculture,” using silt left by floodwaters that occur during the monsoon season to fertilize their crops. The Ethiopian government, needing to create more electricity, built a dam on the Omo River, which has caused disruption to the tribe's way of life and forced tribes upstream.

The Karo Tribe is one of many that make Africa a beautiful, diverse and culturally mesmerizing continent. 

 Photo by Adam Kozio