Further south from Arba Minch we initially stayed on the flat valley floor, where banana production seems a major activity – in addition to the omnipresent herds of cows and goats, which are still being watered and being walked, somehow preferably up and down the main road. Only after a while we left the valley floor and climbed into the mountains again.
The next town of any importance, if only because it is located on a junction of the only two main roads in this part of the country, is Karat, home to the Konso people. There are some 300,000 of them, apparently, mostly scattered across the country side, but around Karat they are concentrated in characteristic mountain villages: the oldest part on the top, and additional layers of houses built in circles around it, each lower layer protected by its own stone wall. The houses themselves are tukuls, round huts with thatched roofs and a pot on the top, against leakage (the pot can also signal the religion of the family, eg with a cross in the pot, or whether the family is that of an important clan leader, then they have an ostrich egg on the pot). Of most interest to us, collectors, are the wooden sculptures that are being placed on important graves, depicting the hero or clan leader, his wife, and the enemies he killed during his life; unfortunately, most of those so-called wagas have already been stolen, to the effect that the Konso now keep their dead inside the compound, not anymore in the fields around the village. We decided not to put a bid in.
With the Konso, we have also arrived in the South Ethiopia tourist trap, where everybody wants to have their picture taken, only to charge you somewhere between 10-25 cents for the privilege, afterwards. They also try to charge you for every other photo, whether from their house or somebody else’s, from a cow or a goat, or from an exotic bird that happens to be in the neighbourhood. And then, suddenly, it turns out to be a blessing to have a mandatory guide, someone who puts things in perspective and deals with the unreasonableness of the villagers – mind you, we have already heftily paid for the visit at the official Konso tourist outfit, nothing comes for free here. I suspect this is how the next few days will be, in each and every village of each and every tribe. Did I say, earlier, that this was the last frontier, the only area where African tribes still lived in their original setting?