The Karo
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The Karo

White chalk tribe. Extraordinary skills in body and face painting makes their artform unique in the world.

White chalk tribe. Extraordinary skills in body and face painting makes their artform unique in the world.

Challenge your perception of beauty and capture the splendour of the Karo’s tribal makeup. Living along the east banks of the Omo River in southern Ethiopia, you’ll be joining one of the smallest tribes in the region.

The Karo’s extraordinary skills in body and face painting makes their artform unique in the world.
Snapshot

Snapshot

  • Region is Central Africa

  • Climate here is Tropical

Life

Life

The Karo have an estimated population between just 1,000 and 3,000 and traditionally practice flood retreat cultivation. They grow sorghum, maize and beans. While historically they were well known for their skills in breeding, nowadays, only small sized cattle are kept because of the increasing number of tsetse flies, who consume the blood of vertebrate animals.
Home

Home

When they were rich in cattle, the Karo were famous for their magnificent houses. After they lost their wealth, they adopted much more discreet conical huts. Each Karo family owns two houses: the Ono, the main living room of the family, and the flat-roofed Gappa, the centre of household activities.

Culture

Social Structure

The Karo have created a complex social hierarchy avoiding intermarriage in order to try and keep their lineages pure. To boost their sex appeal, both men and women of the tribe paint their faces and bodies.

Religion

The Barriyo is the creator and source of good fortune for the Karo. They always follow their religious leader, the Bitti, who is in charge of securing communal wellbeing in the social and natural environments.

Traditions

For the Karo, male and female body scarification conveys either significant symbolism or aesthetic beauty. Ritual combats between the clans are of great importance because the men have the possibility to exhibit their beauty and courage, and consequently attract a woman.

Language

Karo speak an Omotic language. Karo is described as being closely related to its neighbors, Hamer and Banna.

Art

The Karo body and face painting techniques use coloured ochre, white chalk, yellow mineral rock and other natural resources of the area. Their designs will change daily and each have different meanings.

Celebrations

Specific rituals occur regularly within the Karo community, and sometimes even neighboring villagers will travel all night to witness these rites of passage and participate in the celebrations.
Further knowledge

Further knowledge

Always ask before taking a picture of the Karo people. They normally charge for photos as part of their livelihood.


Photos credit: Emani Cheneke - Ethiopia