Days Without Connection-Part 2- Karat Konso

Karat Konso is definitely a place that needs a separate blog page to mention. It is a small town on the Konso Highlands en route to the Omo Valley with its own unique culture and landscape scenery. It is perched at an elevation of 1,650m and is 90km far from Arba Minch. It was registered as a UNESCO Heritage Site in 2011.

The Konso people are well-known for their stone terracing and soil conservation system. They grow sorghum, wheat, barley, maize, peas, beans, bananas, cotton, tobacco, coffee and root plants.

Konso villagers drinking their sorghum wine at least 3 times a day.

Konso market

Konso woman in her traditional white costume with colorful fringes

Gesergiyo lies 17km from Karat-Konso by road up on the mountain. It attracts attention primarily for the adjoining formation of sand pinnacles sculpted by occasional water flow in a normally dry gorge. It is a magnificent and very unusual natural phenomenon. Rock formations of similar character can be found in other parts of the world but the fact that they are made entirely of sand makes them incomparable.

The external resemblance of the pinnacles to a row of ‘skyscrapers’ led some people to rename the area ‘New York’, but sure I myself prefer it’s original name Gesergiyo.

Local myths has Gesergiyo’s supernatural origin. The story goes that a local chief of the 9 clans awoke one day to find his ceremonial drums had been stolen during the night. He prayed to god, who swept away the earth from where the thieves had buried the drums, creating the sand formation in the process.

This landscape by erosion is magnificently revealing the powers of nature.

In addition to  The Konso are the only remaining stone tool-using culture. It is used for grinding grains, sharpening knives and spears, making anvils, lining wells, building walls and constructing dams.

The Konso people strategically live high on the mountains to keep themselves safe from being attacked by other tribes.

The Konso built their villages in a maize of stone walls to protect invasion from neighboring tribes

Gate to the Konso village

The Konso’s village huts

The chief’s hut as indicated by the ostrich egg on the roof top

Each walled village possesses several several public places, mora, of different tupes and functions. They are the site of political negotiations, administration of justice, rites of passage, sacrifices and victory or harvest ceremonies. They are also places for social gatherings and dancing.

In front of the mora are erected the generation poles. These poles are long dry wood of junipers, erected every 18 years when a new generation takes place. By counting the number of generation poles, one knows about the age of the village. The village I visited has 21 poles.

Also in the mora is the matrimony stone. This is a challenge all Konso boys have to take to prove their manhood before marriage by lifting up the stone to show that they have the force and power.

This is the ‘pafta’-a common house constructed for all active age men to live in the mora. The Konso has designed a system that all active men in the responsible age group are not permitted to sleep in their private house but to sleep and be on guard at the common house. This is to facilitate a rapid mobilization of all active men against any possible dangers such as attacks by other tribes, fires, etc. It is also the responsibility of all active men to keep the traditional stone walls.

The pafta has 2 storeys. The active men usually sleep on the top storey. Male guests from other villages may sleep in the pafta as well. A view from the pafta seeing a senior villager who does not welcome much the presence of foreigners and photography in his village.

Traditionally a waka would be erected above the grave of important konso men such as heroes or clan chief. The dead was usually represented in the center of the waka group and flanked by his wives. On the surroundings stood any enemies he had killed or fierce animals he had slained.