The Kara and their neighbouring ethnic groups

© Joey L., Portrait of Magi, Kara Women.

The Kara live along the shores of the southern Omo river in the lowlands of south-western Ethiopia. Their language belongs beside those of the Aari, Hamar, Banna and Dime to the southern omotic family of languages, an individual branch of the Afro- Asiatic language family. The literacy rate of the approximately 1400 Kara is given with 1.5%. Influence and status in the social and political life of Kara depends mainly on membership in age groups, descent groups and clans as well as on personal characteristics, such as eloquence, fairness and wisdom.

The three main settlements are Labuk, Dus and Korcho. At the beginning of the 19th century they migrated to this area in which their group and livestock were soon decimated by the tsetse fly and the sleeping sickness. The former herdsmen moved their economic priorities on keeping small stock, farming and established permanent settlements. Today they pursue a mixed economy which is based on agriculture (cultivation of sorghum, beans and maize), Pastoralism (sheep, goats), Apiculture (beekeeping), fishing and hunting. The remaining cattle of Kara are kept by the Hamar, with which they maintain a reciprocal exchange friendship. During the last years tourism has become a determining source of income, particularly in Korcho, the village best accessible by cross-country vehicle with a marvellous look over the Omo riverbed and the vast scenery level. To fullfill the obligations of the modern world and external influences the call for school education gets stronger and stronger. Many older people regret, that they missed the possibility of school education that could have helped in facing recent changes and difficulties in their homelands, for example the clearing of their country for cotton plantations. They try to send at least one of their children to school to be able to meet these and similar challenges better. Even if this is not an easy thing to do. To attend schools means to move in the distant market centres which is no easy decision for many families and often financially impossibly.

The Kara represent a small group and minority in face of the neighbouring Hamar and Banna, the nilotic languages speaking Nyangatom and Mursi and the Arbore and Dassanech belonging to the Cushitic language family. They maintain complex relations with their neighbouring groups which range from friendship and bartering to hostility.