by Joakim Larsen
In April 2016 I was in Dus, the main village of the Kara people with around 2.000 inhabitants. It is a hot place, beautifully located on the East bank of the Omo River. The landscape is lush. On one side of the village along the Omo River lies a forest. On the other side of the village the landscape is savanna-like with acacia trees and dessert-rose trees spread out and with a magnificent view of the mountains to the East.
Dus is still an isolated stronghold of the Kara people, one of the many semi-pastoral tribes of the Omo Valley. People here live as they have done for centuries., herding goats and cattle and growing smaller crops of maize, millet and pulses. There is no electricity in Dus, no running water, no mobile connection, and the dirt track leading here quickly turnes into a mud trap on rainy days. It is an isolated place, where life is calm and quiet.
One day during an afternoon break, Loquoia, who became a good friend during our five day stay, led me to a location at the other end of the village. As we approached the tent-like place the voices grew louder. You could hear men and women, laughing and engaging in lively discussions.
As I entered I was caught by surprise: Inside were sitting 50-60 adult men and women. No children and no young people. To the right were sitting a group of middle aged women dressed in the traditional goat skin around the waist and with the distinct neclaces in red, white and blue pearls. The women seemed to be having a great time. As they saw me they laughed and shouted and waved me over. I thought however it would be more “safe” to sit with the men and I smiled and quickly went to the other side of the tent. And it was then I realised that Loquoia had left. I was by myself.
I decided to stay anyway and ended up close to what appeared to be six elders who were sitting in a row, facing the rest of the crowd. They expressed authority and as opposed to the rest of the people, who were acting more loosely, the six sat in a calm and more disciplined manner. Their facial expressions were serious, they had beautiful hairdo’s, ears pierced with rows of rings, their torsoes decorated with scarifications and around the wrists and elbows they wore numerous bracelets. This was another people, another language, another life, another world than what I had ever experienced before. And I was taking it all in...
Immediately as I sat down, a huge calabas was passed to me. It was heavy. Around 6 liters and full to the edge with a thick porridgy liquid. Inside was a stick to stir. One of the elders signalled to me to drink. It was tala, local beer Kara style - a fermented porridge mixed with hot water. I drank. It was not bad. But also not good. I could taste the yeast and sensed how it would keep on bobbling in my insides. But I drank politely and passed it on. Soon after the calabas was passed to me again. I smiled and took another sip. “You dont like it?” the elder asked and signalled me to drink more. I smiled and took a few more mouthfuls before passing it on.
Suddenly, after receiving the calabas for the third time, it dawned on me: these people had been sitting here for hours, drinking tala. And both the men and the women were already rather besotted. I signalled to one of the younger men to translate to the elder, who had just passed me the calabas once again. And I said to him: “If I drink anymore of this, I will begin to dance.”
He looked at me. His intense eyes were penetrating and full of love. And in a tone so calm and friendly as I have never heard it before, he said to me: “That is not a problem. We are one.”
Sharing is happiness...