The Tribes of Omo Valley
In November 2014, photojournalist Martin Middlebrook fulfilled a long-held ambition to photograph the ancient tribes of the Lower Omo Valley in the south of Ethiopia. Ethiopia is the seat of humanity, the birthplace of mankind, it is where our ancestors came from – it is where we come from.
Comprising 14 different tribes, these extraordinary people face an increasingly bleak future in Africa’s Great Rift Valley. With rapidly increasing tourism, and the construction of the Gibe III dam, the traditional way of life for these pastoral tribes is fast eroding. The Ethiopian Government is also implementing a policy of land grabs and resettlements, enabling the government to lease out vast blocks of land for cash crops, such as the growing of biofuels, predominately to international companies from Malaysia, Italy, India and Korea.
This once inaccessible region has become a haven for tourists keen to add ‘Omo’ to their bucket list. It’s still a journey, but as infrastructure has improved so has accessibility, and the region and its tribes are at an uneasy crossroad. Home to 200,000 people, each with a distinct culture living in lands bounded by geographical features from mountain ranges to dry river beds, the invasion of thrill seekers is changing their world forever. The photos taken were an attempt to witness these extraordinary people before the homogeny of western humanity swamps their past, as the construction of the Gibe III dam will soon flood the ancestral lands they have farmed for generations.
The portfolio of photographs bears witness to the incredible faces and decorative culture of a people whose history is being invaded and eroded too quickly for them to survive unchanged.