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The Colorful Tribes of Ethiopia

As a child, Jessica Antola traveled the world with her family to places like Tibet, Antarctica and India. She always kept a camera handy to record her adventures, inspiring her later in life to find places off the beaten path.

Jump forward a few decades, and the photographer from Brooklyn took her curiosity and her camera to the African country of Ethiopia. The country’s history and diversity were big attractions for her.

It’s a fascinating country almost twice the size of Texas — 1.59 times to be exact — with more than 80 different ethnic minority groups. I wanted to seek out locations where I am able to take portraits of individuals who have maintained their traditions without the effects of globalization.

I spent February traveling the countryside, and while I was blown away by the valleys and mountains with their breathtaking views, ultimately I was drawn to the people of Ethiopia.

I was attracted to the creativity and elegance of the people I photographed. The harsh reality of many of their lives was not evident in the grace and strength with which they held themselves, nor in the exquisiteness of their wardrobe.

Some of the photos show tribe members in body paint or traditional garb. Residents of the Omo Valley in southwest Ethiopia use clay paint for ceremony or decoration, which serves as protection against sun exposure and insects.

Photo of The Colorful Tribes of Ethiopia - Courtesy of Jessica Antola Photography

In the regions of Ethiopia closer to cities, it is more common to see people wearing Westernized clothing. For example, the Ari (people) are typically in Westernized dress, as their villages are located closer to urban centers. Even in traditionally dressed tribes, Westernized items would find their way into the native garb.

I saw stainless-steel watchbands on traditional Arbore beaded necklaces, and striped polo shirts on many of the Hamar men. It was fascinating to see various Western traditions mixed with traditional tribal dress, but also to see the consistency with which it was worn by a group. All the men of a particular tribe would wear a specific style of Westernized shirt, making it their own new ‘traditional’ way of dress.

The Ethiopian way of life, particularly in the Omo Valley, is diverse and varied, even in the space of 20 miles. Despite the encroachment of Western ideas from nearby cities, the tribes have remained relatively unchanged.

The main thing I want people to appreciate in my photos is the universal human need for self-expression .

I hope people see the beauty, uniqueness and diversity of the people and country of Ethiopia. In our ever-changing and rapidly globalizing world, I also hope that in the future, these images can provide a window to the past.

The first version of this article was posted on 20 Jan 2014 at 3:25 PM.


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