The lower valley of the Omo, at the borders of Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan, remains one of the wildest places in Africa. Over the course of numerous voyages to this forgotten land, Hans Silvester became fascinated by the beauty of the Surma and Mursi tribes, who share a taste for body painting and extravagant decorations borrowed from nature.
In this region of East Africa, the rivers that run through the dry savannahs are home to abundant flowers, papyrus and wild fruit trees, and this luxuriance becomes an invitation to creativity and spectacle. Within hand’s reach, a multitude of plants inspire fanciful and ephemeral self-decoration, and the Omo tribes react spontaneously: a leaf, root, seed pod or flower is quickly transformed into an accessory.
People create caps from tufts of grass or they ornament themselves with banana leaves or a stem laden with flowers. These decorations are embellished with butterfly wings, buffalo horns, boar’s teeth, colourful feathers and the like, and are further enhanced by body painting with pigments made from powdered stone, plants, berries and river mud.
Hans Silvester is a member of the Rapho photographic agency. His most recent reports took him to Rajasthan, where he photographed the people of the Thar desert and the incredible bestiary of Shekhawati wall paintings. Among his other books is Ethiopia: Peoples of the Omo Valley, also published by Thames & Hudson.