Mursi face and body painting

Mother and Child

Traditional Men's Wear

French cuisine for tsetse flies

Valerie and Thierry

The MURSI PEOPLEx........Johnny had warned me about the Mursi people. It was an echo of the Lonely Planet write up. After reading it, I felt sufficiently warned and made my careful preparations for the visit. Off came the watch, glasses, ring, and money belt. These things as well as my zoom lens were locked in the truck. I carried my camera and my camera bag strapped around my neck. My wallet, with a zillion birr, was zipped inside the camera case.

Johnny also made his preparations. There were some Mursi villages he refused to go to for safety issues. (The Mursi in some places stole cameras out of your hands.) Eventually, we were ready to face the Mursi, and it was amazing!

The women didn't have lip plates on when we arrived. Their lower lips simply dangled from their mouths kind of like long orange peelings. If the real reason for doing this originally was to make their women undesirable for slavers, well . . . I think it worked. The lips were by far the most interesting feature about the women. None of the Mursi men were around. (Apparently they were farming or with the cattle.) It was our loss. We also didn't see any traditional home in any kind of traditional village. However, the Mursi boys were also interesting. Just like the men, they didn't wear anything. Some had sticks, jewelry, and unique face painting. By far their most interesting feature was their ears. They wore plugs or plates to elongate the lobes in similar ways to the way the women stretched their lower lips.

The Mursi were the most aggressive models I'd ever experienced. They continually grabbed at my arms (it was easy to see how watches could disappear) and blocked my way as well as any football player. I came close to smacking a few of them. When the photos were done, it was time for sales. What could they possibly have to sell? Clay lip plates. They would be exotic candleholders in my home - and what a steal! I bought five - fresh from the fire and still hot - for just over a dollar.

The Lonely Planet further explained a little of what I had just experienced. "For many of the ethnic groups raiding is a part of life - a means of survival in a very harsh environment. In Karo language the word 'thief' does not exist. Children are encouraged at a young age to pilfer - and beaten only if caught. Some of the people are master thieves; things can disappear before your eyes in broad daylight."

In the morning, instead of taking the direct route up the mountain to Jinka, we had a game drive. There were a couple of problems. The first one being most of the game had been hunted down a long time ago. There were a few wart hogs, dik dik, and a couple of water buck antelope. Certainly nothing new. I guess there actually was game - us - and that was the bigger problem. Mago Park was infested with tsetse flies. Those nasty creatures were twice the size of normal houseflies and way more evil. They could and did bite through clothing, causing welts twice the size of mosquito bites. Gentle brushing away of the flies didn't do any good. They were persistent - in your face - not to mention legs, back, collar, and arms. Very few were ever squashed prior to the attack. At one point, as I stomped one into a long smear on the floor mat, Johnny said, "No! No! No killing in the national park." That was advice I wasn't about to abide - even though a ranger with an AK-47 sat directly behind me in the truck.

Swat! Well, actually several swats! My limit of endurance was hit (or bit!) I told Johnny I didn't want to see any animals. I wanted to leave Mago Park and the tsetse flies immediately. No more touring, no more animals, no uncertain terms. We rolled up the truck windows, enduring the heat, until we reached a higher, non-infested elevation on the way to Jinka.

Copyright 2001 by Phillip Martin All rights reserved.