The Karo: - People of Chalk Painted Bodies

The Karo tribe residing along the borders of the Lower Omo River incorporates rich, cultural symbolism into their rituals by using ornate body art, intricate headdresses, and significance within their community. The most important ceremony in the life of a Karo is the Pilla, or jumping over a group of oxen. This ritual marks the passage from adolescence to adulthood. The ceremony is similar to that of the Hamar, however the Karo only have four chances to jump over the oxen without falling.
The Karo, who number only about 3,000 people, mainly live on the practice of flood retreat cultivation on the banks of the Omo River in South-western Ethiopia.

The Karo excel in face and body painting, practiced in preparation of their dances and ceremonies. They pulverize locally found white chalk, yellow mineral rock, red iron ore and black charcoal to decorate their bodies, often imitating the spotted plumage of a guinea fowl. Feather plumes are inserted in their clay hairbuns to complete the look. The clay hair bun can take up to three days to construct and is usually re-made every three to six months. Their painted facemasks are spectacular. Karo women scarify their chests to beautify themselves. Scars are cut with a knife and ash is rubbed in to produce a raised welt.

 

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