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.

All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy

As I have settled down into my daily routines and found adaptive ways to live the African life, I have more time and energy to explore my surroundings. I feel obliged to write this blog to promote tourism in Ethiopia as a part of my contribution to aide its economy and long term development. Ethiopia has a rich culture, long standing history and beautiful sceneries which may not have been known to many outsiders in other parts of the world.

Tourism is now a favorite career subject for young Ethiopians as they see huge potential in this field, be it training in hotel management, the food industry or becoming a tour guide or translator. Often ferengis will be grabbed for a chat while walking down the road by enthusiastic tourism students to practice their English.

Lalibela, famed for its rock hewn churches, is arguably one place in Ethiopia that no tourist should miss. It is a town perched at an altitude of 2630m among mountains and rocky escarpments. It is the Holy City of Ethiopia, like Jerusalem, many pilgrims come from afar to visit. It is a UNESCO site, but is still an active Christian spiritual centre, exactly just like what it had been 800 years ago.

The famous Biet Giyorgis, one of the stone churches, as seen in the postcards.

Side view of Biet Giyorgis, one of the most majestic churches in Lalibela. It is an isolated monolith, carved in the shape of a cruciform tower. It is excavated below ground level in a sunken courtyard enclosed by precipitous walls.

Faithfuls travelling long distance by foot to the holy city

Little Faithfuls

95% of the Ethiopian population are Orthodox Christians. They still practice fasting.

Priest reading the Bible quietly in the corner

As for my leaking roof, some of you have suggested putting some kind of canvas on top. Here is what the European Union has done to protect the UNESCO rock hewn churches from water seepage damage.

You are welcome to throw in your thoughts or give them better suggestions about these modern umbrellas over the ancient structures.

“The Umbrella” for protection

Biet Giyorgis is the only church without an “umbrella” as it will obscure the view of it’s characteristic cruciform roof top. How about a transparent one???

Since Bahir Dar, the small city where I volunteer, is situated on the southern tip of Lake Tana, the largest lake in Ethiopia, how can I not spend a day to have a boat trip to see its famous monasteries and visit the hippos?

Besides hippos and  crocodiles, Lake Tana harbours at least 26 species of fishes, some of which are endemic to the lake. Tana is also renowned for its varied birdlife. Flotillas of white pelicans are particularly common.
Lake Tana is about 65km in diameter and averaging 14m in depth. It is set at an altitude of 1830m. It was formed at least 20 million years ago by an ancient lava extrusion functioning as a natural dam. At the backdrop, you can see the skyline of Bahir Dar city.

Monastery hopping on Lake Tana is quite an expensive activity (due to fuel cost). I took this boat with several other tourists to the closest monastery on the Zege Peninsula. The boat ride took about 45 minutes.

You would be surprised to see the existence of this papyrus tankwa, which resembles greatly the ancient Egyptian boat, sailing across Lake Tana. It`s no more than a kayak made of papyrus. The locals are using it as a means of transportation. It takes them 6 hours of hard paddling to go to the other shore!! Obviously no life vests are available.
Not all monasteries allow women and animals to enter. We visited this medieval church, Ura Kidane Mihret, which was founded in the 14th century. This circular church`s walls were covered by jumbo murals, painted between 100-250 years ago. Here are some interesting looking ones just for the readers to have a glimpse. (Wish to upload more pictures, but have to apologize the limitations of the internet line.)

Corridor of the circular Ura Kidane Mihret Monastery, Zege, Bahir Dar
I sincerely hope that today`s blog has given you another perspective about Ethiopia, at least a glimpse of its beauty and some part of its long standing culture.