A mother holds her son’s head, the boy is no older than two, inside a goat’s stomach. After a couple of minutes, he resurfaces as if out of water. He isn’t wet but his skin in covered in what the animal ate before dying – semi-digested grass – which his mother smears on his feet as if she were performing a cosmetic treatment. Then she gives him a piece of the stomach to chew on.
In order to comprehend the lifestyles and worldview of the tribes of the Lower Omo Valley in southwestern Ethiopia, first of all we must suspend all judgement. The ritual described may seem cruel but the child is peaceful and like the rest of the Hamer tribe his mother believes this act, which would be considered a form of violence elsewhere, can protect him from malaria. And if anything, it serves to prepare him for a hard life of daily toil and suffering. What’s important, therefore, isn’t to deliberate on what’s right and what’s wrong, but to gain a clearer picture in order to understand whether these peoples’ ways of life should be preserved. And, more importantly, who gets to decide this.