In some parts of the world, there are ethnic tribes whose traditions remain untouched by modernity. The Karo Tribe of Ethiopia belongs to such category.
The Karo tribe is the smallest tribe in South Ethiopia that resides along the banks of the Omo River. Surrounded by more powerful and wealthier tribes, there’s a complex social hierarchy to thwart intermarriage and keep their lineages pure. Just like many original tribes, they are distinguished by practices peculiar to them.
The desire to adorn themselves with bright colours is one of the most striking features of this tribal culture.
The Karo are unarguably naturally artistic. Asides farming and livestock, they are known for their alluring and intricate body and face painting. They decorate their faces and bodies using white chalk and natural minerals like the red ochre.
These paintings and markings take elaborate processes with designs ranging from simple and fine dots to rough deliberately drawn. Animal motifs are some of the striking body painting designs they do. Both men and women practice this symbolic and ornamental expression in a bid to appear more attractive to the opposite sex. Even the youngest in the tribe gets his own share of paintings.
Here’s where it gets interesting.
Beauty plays an important role in Karo’s cultural tradition, and for the women, it is literally ingrained deep in their bodies. Women inflict lacerations and cuts on certain areas of their bodies to produce intricate patterns of scars. It should be noted that, all this is done for beauty reasons, as a woman with these types of scars on her torso is considered by her people as mature and attractive. The scars are cut with a knife or razor and ash is rubbed into them to produce a permanent welt.
The men scarify themselves too, but theirs is to symbolise courageous acts. If you see a Karo man with scars across his chest, have it in mind that he’s letting you know that he has bravely killed enemies from rival tribes or a deadly animal. A man sporting scars on his chest is held in high esteem in his community as each scar represents a single kill.
The Karo tribe is truly unique. Its significance has been recognised by UNESCO, which named it a World Heritage Site in the 1980s.