Each year, hundreds of tribal people walk for days across the serene barren terrain to gather along the shores of Lake Turkana for a peacemaking festival. As many as 15 tribes/ethnic groups, such as the Randille, Samburu, Turkana, Dassanach Gabra, Borana, El Molo, Konso, Sakure, Garee, and Waata, gather in a kaleidoscope of color, dressed in their most elaborate traditional clothing, beading, head ornaments, and paint made from red ochre. During the festival, the tribes gather to play traditional instruments, sing, and dance for hours, celebrating social cohesion and creating peace. To experience this is mesmerizing for the eyes, mind, and soul.
The Omo River runs through Ethiopia and feeds Lake Turkana in Kenya. The exotic tribes that settled in the Omo Valley continue through the entire Turkana basin, where they have continued living their traditional lives for decades, if not centuries. In times of drought, conflict arises as the tribes fight over grazing land. This festival was started about 10 years ago by the German consulate and is critically important for maintaining peace among the tribes.
I have been fortunate to attend this event over the past 4 years, and there is nowhere in Africa one could witness such an incredible gathering of tribes. Due to the logistical challenges, visiting each tribe separately would take several weeks in harsh conditions, and still, one would not experience the spectacular beauty of this event. More than the incredible photographic opportunities is the life enriching experience of interacting with all these tribes, sharing food, drink, dancing, and stories.
What has kept this festival special is that, due to the logistical challenges, it has kept tourism at a minimum with exception of the adventure seekers, back packers, locals, and top professional cultural photographers, who are there doing their own work. However, with more exposure of this festival every year and new roads going in, I see this changing quickly.
I love the authenticity of this festival and witnessing the positive role it plays in uniting so many tribes. This year, I brought several of my friends from the Samburu area. What I had not expected was how fascinated they were by how the other tribes in the area lived. Unique to the town of Loiyangalani is that four tribes live here together. At sunrise and sunset, we would venture out to a local village, and my Samburu warriors were in the vehicles excited for the adventure, which also added greatly to the experience of my guest.
My Samburu friends are in the water watching the El Molo tribe go out for evening fishing. Reice is photographing them with his phone.
They were curious about the ancient log fishing boat still being used today.
They spent some time discussing these ancient fishing practice with the El Molo boat owner.
Tebe trying his first piece of fish. The older warriors would not have anything to do with trying the fish. Like the Rendille, the Samburu do not eat fish, but the younger warriors, we open to try everything.
All across the landscape life was happening as it had for hundreds of years. These Gabra men were in route to another village with the camel packed with their belongings. At the top is where the children sit, shaded by the colorful cloth above.
The arrival into this years festival was extraordinarily special as one of my guest discovered the Travel Africa magazines in the back of each seat was the issue with my double spread photograph of the Turkana Tribe dancing at last years festival. As our chartered flight landed on the airstrip, this tribe was there with my Samburu friends, greeting us with singing and dancing.
I would love to see more of these peacemaking cultural festivals develop throughout Africa, but for now, I will continue to look forward to the Turkana Festival in 2018!