The Kara live on the Western banks of the Omo River in the homonymous Omo Valley, a fascinating place that UNESCO has recognized as a World Heritage Site for the richness of tribal traditions, rituals and ceremonies.
Many Kara ritualsare similar to the Bena or Banna and Hamer rituals, as these three tribes have a common origin.
The Kara live practically almost isolated from the rest of Ethiopia, they still live following their ancient traditions, regardless of the progress and Western lifestyle; on the other hand, the only contacts they have with people who do not belong to their everyday life, are those few travelers who venture to some village or tribal markets.
The beliefs and rituals of the Kara
There are many rituals that are still practiced by the Kara, as are the beliefs that still drive many behaviors of the members of this tribe.
Both witchcraft and magic are recognized and feared by this population; the religious leaders of the Kara, the bitti, have the task of ensuring the common well-being and solving the disorders in the social and natural environment.
In the past, to preserve tribal purity and prevent mixed marriages between tribes, unions had to be approved by the elderly, and children born of unrecognized unions were considered Mingi.
Mingi means cursed, in the past the conviction was in fact widespread, but in part it is still today, that a child is cursed if he is born out of wedlock, or if a couple does not have the permission of the elderly to have a child or, even more bizarrely, if the child sprouts before teeth of the upper arch than the lower one.
The Kara, according to their beliefs, are convinced that a Mingi creature is cursed, impure, full of sin, she will bring evil spirits and misfortune to her family, her village and her tribe.
The Mingi children are often accused of bringing drought, famine or disease into the tribe, so they are killed; these helpless newborns are thrown into theOmo Riverto be left to drown or to be devoured by crocodiles, or left to die in the savannah or suffocated by filling their mouths with earth to prevent them from breathing.
Also twins are considered Mingi and one or both are killed, depending on the tribe to which they belong.
If someone is discovered feeding a Mingi, he will no longer be able to live in the village, no one will talk to him, no one will eat or drink sorghum beer with him and he will not be able to enter the house of ceremonies, he too will become an outcast.
Today it is illegal to suppress a Mingi, but the traditions, deeply rooted in the elderly members, are difficult to eradicate and some still think that if they let the cursed children live the community would be struck by famine and pestilence.
The Kara still practice different tribal ceremonies and rituals.
One of the ceremonies is the ceremony of Gorri that is carried out for a firstborn: the grandfather of the child by the father binds some ropes, made from sheepskin, around the neck, wrists and ankles of the child; then also binds a rope, made from the bark of the trees, oiled and immersed in clay, around the waist of the newborn.
Those who attend the ritual will color their body with clay and bless the mother and child.
The Kara, like the Hamer and the Bashada, still practice the Bula ritual, or bull jumping, a rite of passage to adulthood.
The jump of the bull is the proof that young men must pass in order to consecrate their passage to the age of adulthood and acquire the right to marry; during this ritual the young man must demonstrate his strength by successfully jumping on a row of cattle six times in a row, the bulls are lined up and the boys must run naked on the backs of the cattle being careful not to fall.
Those who have to perform this initiation rite receive the support and encouragement of their whole village, young women ask to be whipped until the blood flows on their backs; this to show the young man that they will be by his side despite the adversity.
The scars that result from the lashes are a source of pride for women and also an insurance policy for the future: the man who causes the scars on their skin is obliged to take care of her if her husband dies.
If a young man fails the bull jumping test he must try again in the following years, but the dishonor falls on him, while if the ritual is passed the boy is considered an adult, he can marry and earn the right to go to the holy places with the elders of the clan.
The boy who passes the test may marry only if the older brothers have already married.
Unlike the Hamer, where each boy faces the test alone, the Kara perform the ceremony only in large groups consisting of boys of the same age who face the test together.
To celebrate this ritual it is necessary that there has been a good harvest because they will have to offer the guests goat meat, corn and the Akele, a kind of beer, an alcoholic drink that is consumed during all the celebrations.
Another ritual, that is performed every 28 days, takes place on the banks of the Omo River.
The Omo River plays a fundamental role in the life of the Kara, giving life with floods, that make the land fertile, but also hides a deadly danger: crocodiles.
Every month when there is the new moon, a chosen one has the task of guaranteeing peace between men and crocodiles; the man who speaks to the crocodiles descends into the darkness to perform a brief ceremony that protects his people from the enormous creatures that inhabit the Omo river.
This man carries a bundle of leafy branches, dips them in water, then shakes them upstream and downstream, while he recites with an authority that only he possesses, a sort of prayer that sounds more or less like this: "Crocodile, listen, this place is mine, my father's, my father's father, stay away from here, let my people and their herds go down to drink and let the children swim".
Then he lays the branches on the mud and goes down into the black water, joining its silt and its secrets, and he washes himself.
The man has a special relationship with the ancient reptiles, as his father did before him; the bond between this man and the crocodile is strong and deep, it is believed that the crocodiles talk to him in his dreams.
The taboos of the Kara
The Kara society is also regulated by a series of taboos that must be respected.
The taboos of the Kara are:
• The bones of animals cannot be broken at night.
• You cannot buy anything related to fertility (seeds or female animals) with money carried by a donkey, or with money earned from the sale of objects carried by a donkey.
• Members of some clans cannot eat liver.
• Members of other clans cannot eat kidneys.
• Sorcerers cannot eat the heads of animals.
Furthermore, a large number of taboos regulate female fertility, sometimes with a cold severity; but these taboos are kept hidden and it is not possible to know much about them.