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Photographing the Murci women

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Vilori is a young woman from the Murci tribe. I met Vilori while travelling through the Omo valley in southern Ethiopia. Admittedly I was very hesitant to meet this tribe after all the unnerving stories I had read about them. I read that they can be aggressive, and very difficult to communicate with. I have to say that I did not find this to be completely true. Of course it’s difficult to communicate with them due to the language barrier, but they do react positively to a little tact and good humor. Although not aggressive, I did find the Murci women very pushy and difficult to negotiate with when it came to taking their pictures. They kind of remind me of the gypsies in Europe; very lively and fun, but pushy at the same time.

After a while I developed a plan of action whenever I wanted to photograph a Murci woman. Arranging a fixed price for all pictures as opposed to paying for each one is essential. Then, having a pre-planned idea of how and where the pictures will be taken makes life easier, as the Murci women will not hang around patiently while the photographer is fidgeting with the equipment.

Once the pictures have been taken they will most certainly want to view them in camera. Play dumb if possible, and don’t show them the images as they will start counting them and demand payment for each picture, contrary to what was agreed. The best thing is to start getting into your vehicle (if you have one) and pay them when you are ready to shoot off. Whatever is paid to them, even if it’s more than the agreed sum, won’t be enough. The Murci usually make a distinct “yiiip” sound which basically means ‘what!’. I found that by repeating this and smiling when they were out of order was  an ice breaker which even prompted outbursts of laughter.

The Murci men are calmer and quieter than the women, and even the latter change their behaviour according to the setting. In general, the women behave much more reserved when you meet them in a village where there are men about than if you meet them out in the countryside doing chores with other women. One thing I did realize is that the Murci are not even half as interested in me as I was in them. And why should they? I don’t even think they understand why I wanted to be there.

Spencer

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