Prerow’s Last Legion

August 1989, and we were the “last legion” to be trained in one of East Germany’s paramilitary camps – one of the things that had become part and parcel of growing up in East Germany. Now we were there for a last time, though we didn’t know that yet.

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30 Years Revolution, 1989-2019. Part 1

I was 17 in the summer of 1989, my last school holidays in-between grade eleven and twelve. Amidst irritating news about an increasing number of fellow East Germans who tried to flee across a newly opened Hungarian-Austrian border to western countries, a friend and I travelled the Isle of Rügen before we had to serve in a GST-Lager, a paramilitary camp, for a last time.

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Hi mummy, I’m ill

Until 90 years ago, powder made from mummies, i.e. human corpses, was considered a useful drug in Europe, and available in pharmacies until 1924. I need to remind myself of this when reading about body-part juju in Africa. The practice arose from a misinterpretation of the Arabic word for bitumen, mumiya.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

The third step in misinterpreting mummia was to substitute the blackened flesh of an entire mummy for the hardened bituminous materials from the interior cavities of the cadavers.[16] The ancient tombs of Egypt and the deserts could not meet the European demand for the drug mumia, so a commerce developed in the manufacture and sale of fraudulent mummies, sometimes called mumia falsa.[17] The Italian surgeon Giovanni da Vigo (1450-1525) defined mumia as “The flesh of a dead body that is embalmed, and it is hot and dry in the second [grade], and therefore it has virtue to incarne [i.e., heal over] wounds and to staunch blood”, and included it in his list of essential drugs.

See also this article (in English) published by German pharma company Merck.

An interesting article on bog bodies (in German).

Ritual whipping of women

What happens? A few young boys take up some rods, smoothen them (I guess so they don’t break), and then whip across the arms or the back of women, preferably in such a way that the skin breaks, leaving a bloody streak that will turn into a scar. It’s referred to as “culture” (here Banna, and likewise Hamer), and leaves the woman proud. Maybe for her capacity of endurance (as if they didn’t show it every day), her sacrifice for “culture”, and so on. After careful consideration I still see in it a way of making women obedient, and training young boys in the “art” of domestic violence, or so. Explain it in whichever way you like, since the ritual has no male equivalent (just as female genital mutilation has no real male equivalent) I find it not acceptable.

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Omorate and the Daasanach

The Daasanach live on both sides of the Ethiopian-Kenyan border. If they want to cross into Kenya, the removed lower front teeth are their passport. I crossed the Omo at Omorate with my guide Gabriel and his friend to reach the nearest village just before sunset, and it was a very enjoyable visit. No other tourists, the kids enjoyed my mbira again, and since I handed my camera to Gabriel’s friend I could freely move about and people cared less about me. Less posing as well. Things must have been similar to the Mursi situation until a while ago, but now the arrangement is such that visitors pay a flatrate of 200 Birr (ca $7.50) to take pics. The German lawyer who gave me a lift the next day had been to the very same village in the morning, in a crowd of tourists. He said that as much as he loves photography, he found the village arranged in such a way that half-naked women were sat outside their huts staring into the distance apathetically, and he refrained from taking any pictures at all. My experience was totally different. I was able to interact with the people to a degree, and I am very grateful to Gabriel’s friend for the pics he took – he’s a natural photographer, I must say. And I find the Dassenach are amongst the most beautiful people I’ve ever seen.

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Turmi and the Hamer

Turmi is primarily a crossroad. A big, dusty roundabout connects Ethiopia’s south-western corner with the rest of the country. While the roads coming in from the north, east and west are dust tracks, the one leading further south to Omorate becomes a perfect tarmac road some five kilometres out of town.

the Turmi roundabout

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Jinka and the Mursi

Circa 7,500 strong, the Mursi are amongst the most iconic African tribes, and famous especially for the ceramic plates (some) women wear in their lower lips. To this day they live in fairly remote areas some two hours across dust track from Jinka, the southernmost town that has an ATM in Ethiopia’s Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region.

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Omo Valley

Ethiopia’s Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region along with the area around Lake Turkana in northern Keny arguably is one of the candidates for the cradle of humankind, as some major discoveries that have been made here suggest. Since it is also a region with an incredible diversity in tribal cultures, it has been referred to as a (live) museum of human cultures. I found traveling here truly exciting, though not free from major challenges. I don’t mean the usual challenges of logistics, food and health or such like, even though they are more pronounced here. Rather, traveling here has exposed me to significant questions concerning the role of tourism, and tourist-tribe members interaction in a region where ritual infanticide and the ritual whipping of women is practiced. I have written about this in a separate post. So here’s a first glance only.

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