An elder of the Kara tribe, his body decorated with crushed minerals, peers out over the Omo River at dusk. His people once controlled land on both sides of the river, but an enemy tribe has gradually encroached on their territory.
An elder of the Kara tribe, his body decorated with crushed minerals, peers out over the Omo River at dusk. His people once controlled land on both sides of the river, but an enemy tribe has gradually encroached on their territory.

Africa's Last Frontier

Ethiopia’s Omo Valley is still a place ruled by ritual and revenge. But change is coming, from upriver.

Dunga Nakuwa cups his face in his hands and remembers his mother's voice. She has been dead nearly two years, but for Dunga's tribe the dead are never very far away. In the villages they are buried just below the huts of the living, separated from hearths and sleeping skins by only a few feet of dry, depleted soil. They remain near in the mind too. This is why Dunga still hears his mother: When will you take revenge on your brother's killer?

When she was alive, she had occasionally asked this, each time giving the vendetta new life just as Dunga was trying to escape it. He had become the eldest son after his brother, Kornan, was killed by a member of an enemy tribe. It had been an ambush, a choreographed execution. The nature of it, so premeditated, only deepened the insult.

Dunga's father had also been killed by a warrior from the same tribe, and the duty of vengeance had fallen first on his older brother. But after Kornan was killed, the double weight fell to Dunga along paths of tradition worn as hard as the trails leading down to the river. Men from his tribe, the Kara, are renowned marksmen. They had resisted the invasions of the far larger and better armed tribe, the Nyangatom. In both tribes a man who kills an enemy is decorated with special scars dug into the flesh of his shoulder or abdomen. Faced with the murder of his kin, a man would demand vengeance.

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