Karo Tribe

Famed for their body painting, decorating with nature

The Karo tribe, consisting of c1,500 people, is the smallest ethnic group in the Omo Valley. They live along the east banks of the Omo River and it is the source of their livelihood. Annual flooding makes the area’s biodiversity rich and therefore plentiful for collection, which the Karo use to their advantage.

The Karo people differentiate themselves by excelling in body and face painting. They paint themselves daily with coloured ochre, white chalk, yellow mineral rock, charcoal, and pulverized iron ore, all natural resources local to the area. The specific designs drawn on their bodies can change daily and vary in content, ranging from simple stars or lines to animal motifs, such as guinea fowl plumage, or to the most popular – a myriad of handprints covering the torso and legs. The men use clay to construct elaborate hairstyles and headdresses, signifying status, beauty, and bravery.