Thursday, March 29, 2012

the Dorze

The other feature of the South, and one you will hear much more about in the coming few days, is its ethnic diversity, unknown anywhere else: I saw it described somewhere as the last place where a variety of African tribes still live in their original setting. Well, everything within limits, of course.
The original setting comes complete with warnings of pick-pocketing – raiding is a second nature to the African tribe – and a remarkable Ethiopianisation of children, who have quickly emulated their northern brethren in asking for money, pens, caramellos and anything else, as soon as they see a feranji. Waving at the foreigner, and subsequently turning the hand to hold it out for a gift, comes naturally to almost every child, and quite a few grown-ups, along the road, and in every town and village of the south, just as it did in the north. But we are getting increasingly immune to it.
The first of the tribes we visited were the Dorze, a relatively small group that is mostly known for its construction capacity. They have, for 100s of years apparently, built fabulously tall houses, from a bamboo frame woven together with grass and banana leaves. Very attractive structures, all the more so because they do not require a central supporting pole inside, and can simply be picked up and put down somewhere else, should the family move, or should the termites eat too much of the bottom of the structure in one particular place.

(1, 2) Dorze houses are quite impressive structures, tall, and without central support

(3, 4, 5) inside they are pretty simple, and provide room for people, utensils, storage of food
(6) and heating is provided by keeping the animals inside - really!

All this makes the Dorze people a tourist attraction, and thanks to Dutch development aid, the village has established a smooth tourist reception and management system, centered around the local tourist guide association. In short, one is being dropped at one of the houses, taken outside and inside, shown a weaver (the community is famous for weaving), shown how they make food, and then guided towards the tourist shop where they sell the weavings, whilst you wait for the local food to be served – a kind of pancake with honey. Smooth tourist management, but every sense of authenticity is well and truly gone, of course. Still, the houses are impressive.

(7, 8) a well developed tourist industry, complete with sites selling the weavings for which the Dorze are, apparently, famous
What also makes Dorze attractive is its altitude, at 2900 m well over twice as high as nearby Arba Minch. The steep ascent – in our vehicle – provides not only nice views over the mountain slopes and the lake below, but it also crosses some real forest, with real trees, unheard of almost everywhere else in Ethiopia. Of course, since they don’t need wood for their houses here…. Altogether, despite the tourist management system, a nice half day excursion.
 (9) view of the village, or part of it
 (10) just to prove that there are real trees here, so high up the mountains - something we haven't seen for a while
(11) and the view over one of the rift lakes, obscured by a blossoming tree

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