Photoessay by Tammy Law
- Australia -
One of the oldest countries in the world, Ethiopia is often referred to as “the cradle of civilization” – a country with a tumultuous past, present and future, and yet at the same time, a place of unparalleled beauty. In the Northeastern region of Ethiopia earlier this month, a team of scientists recently unveiled their latest findings, Ardi, a revolutionizing fossil that pre-dates the infamous 3.2 million-year-old skeleton of Lucy.
Ethiopia's diversity of terrain means there are wide variations in climate and settlement patterns. Photograph © Tammy Law.
A landlocked country situated in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia is bound by its bordering neighbors Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, Sudan and Eritrea. For outsiders, famine, war, poverty and drought are the things most synonymous with the Ethiopia. Even now, it's still one of the least developed countries in the world, so those preconceptions wouldn't be entirely baseless.
Lack of water and diminishing pastures due to drought and settlement programs create
an appearance of uninhabitable land. Photograph © Tammy Law.
During my month-long visit, I experienced extremes. Ethiopia's diversity of terrain means there are wide variations in climate and settlement patterns. Within the space of two days, we drove from the wet season in the capital Addis Ababa, before being greeted by a thick blanket of heat and humidity in Logiya in the Afar region, far worse than any North Queensland Summer.
Based in the Northeastern lowlands of Ethiopia, the Afar region is notorious for having the most fragile environment within the country and is also known as the hottest inhabited place on Earth. Within the past decade, the region has undergone four major droughts, wrecking environmental havoc that has almost decimated their pastoralist livelihood. Community elders spoke of the deterioration of pastures and consequent depletion of bred cattle and goats. As the majority of Afar live as nomads, their livestock represents the basis of their economic foundation and with this being threatened, so is their very livelihood.
Women and men hold relatively homogenous places within rural societies with women being expected to provide and produce, taking active positions in the social, political and cultural activities of their communities. The varied and important roles have not always been recognized. Photograph © Tammy Law.
The Afar have a deeply paternalistic attitude, which is obvious from birth to burial. At the birth of a baby boy, two celebratory gunshots are fired into the air while female births go unacknowledged. Seven-year-old girls are expected to assume a role of servitude within the household and conduct daily tasks alongside the women, while males are free to do as they please. At the end of their lives, male graves are more distinguishably marked and revered. The Afar have a traditional saying that seems to embody much of what I saw: "One should give an ear to a woman but not take seriously what is said."
Ethiopia has a diverse mix of over 80 ethnic groups. The Afar are comprised of Northeastern Ethiopians; a nomadic group, moving from watering hole to watering hole. The "Ari" is a demountable home made to suit their pastoralist lifestyle.
Photograph © Tammy Law.
In a lot of ways, the country still lingers behind the rest of the world, both practically and symbolically. According to the Ethiopian calendar, for instance, it’s the year 2001. When I boarded the plane out of the country, the millennium had only just passed over. By the time I flew out of the country, watching the land recede below, I had left eight years and countless life stories behind.
About the Author
Tammy Law is an Australian based photographer whose photo documentaries have focused on post-earthquake China, aging day-laborer homes in Japan, gender equality in Ethiopia and Inner Mongolia's domestic living situations. She graduated with a degree in Photojournalism at the end of 2007. Her work has been described as, "innovative and evocative across a broad spectrum that includes social justice issues and the ostensibly mundane urban spaces in which we live." Tammy's work has appeared The Big Issue, Frankie Magazine and Blueprint UK.