Karo

The Karo, with a population of about 1000,are a small group of people who live on the east banks of the Omo River.

They are surrounded by relatively wealthy and strong groups, in terms of cattle and population size. Karo, whose neighbors especially the Hamar (to the South East ) ,Bana (to the east ),Bashada (to the East ), the Mursi (to the North)and Nyangatom (to the west across the Omo river ) know them by the name Kara, speak a south Omotic language.

The main subsistence crops of the Karo are sorghum ,maize and beans .They are also supplemented by bee-keeping and more recently fishing. They plant fields using rain, flood retreat and river bank cultivation but the most important source of grain production is river bank farming than the other two which is carried out both along omo river and on the shores of Lake Diba.

The Karo used to have big ,magnificent houses when they were rich in cattle but after they have lost their wealth through tsese fly they adopted the much lighter conical huts of the Bume. Every karo family own two houses-the conical shaped Ono which is the principal living room of the family and the flat roofed Gappa which is the center of several house hold activities. The Karo have Muldas- kind of gate having "Y" shaped wooden posts up on which are placed horizontal wooden pars. There are -Dus,Korcho and Labuk.
The most striking thing about Karo people's symbolic and ornamental expressions is the painted body and face decorations. This is an elaborate process, which ranges from fine and elaborate details to rough, but striking paintings traced with the palms or fingers. The most beautiful expression is in the facial and chest paintings that combine white (chalk), black (charcoal), yellow, ochre, and red earth. They often imitate the spotted plumage of a guinea fowl. Karo woman scarify their chests to beautify themselves .The complete scarification of a man's chest indicates that he has killed an enemy or a dangerous animal. The scars are cut with a knife or razor blade and ash is rubbed in to produce a raised effect. The wearing of a grey and ochre clay hair bun also indicates the killing of an enemy or a dangerous animal. Both forms of decoration carry the same symbolic meaning for the Karo as they do for the Hamar.
At the end of the harvest and at times of initiation and marriage, the Karo come together to enjoy dances. During the moonlight dances, the Karo men leap joining one another in long lines towards the women, who come forward one by one to select the man whom they favor. Afterwards Karo man and women, coupling themselves, perform rhythmic and pulsating dances, thrusting their hips one against the other in the dusty atmosphere of early evening. These dances often lead to marriage after the initiate has successfully accomplished. A Karo man may take as many wives as he can afford, but usually he marries only two or three. The pilla (the Jumping of Bulls) is one unique cultural manifestaion the visitor shouldn't miss.

Types of Houses of the Karo -Ono and Gappa

Ono is the main living house of the Karo. During the cold seasons of the rain ,when the rainfalls and the mosquitoes prevent people from sleeping outside,it is the Ono which provides them with shelter.Enterance to the narrow and very low door of the Ono is possible only by creeping.It is constructed in such a way that it does not let mosquitoes in during rainy season.

Inside the Ono ,above the fire place ,hanging from the roof, and fixed to the central pole there is a storage place called Korre where household utensils such as bowls,drinking calabashes,cooking pots and gourds are stored. The Ono of the karo has to be rebuilt or renovated every six monthes due to the prevalent termites.

Gappa is a form of a flat-roofed shelter usually built infront of the Ono. Several hosehold activities such as food and coffee preparation,grain grinding,house hold level meetings, entartainment and drinking,and dry season sleeping ,take place in it. Some house hold utencile such as stone made grinding-mills,cooking pots and local beer calabashes are kept in it ,especially in the day times.In both Ono and Gappa variety of wild animal skins are spread for the purpose of sitting and sleeping on.

THE KARO MULDAS

Karo Muldas are "Y" shaped poles fixed on to the ground up on which wooden bars are placed horizontally. The literal meaning for "Mulda" is enterance (gate ) to the main house. Quite different from its literal connotation , the Mulda is a distinctive characteristics of the physical and social structure of karo settlement.

In the karo settlements there are family and clan muldas. Family muldas,whose "Y"shaped poles are two in number, have social and ritual meaning highly esteemed by the family.After a sucessful hunting expedition ,tails ,ears and hooves of a buffalo are suspended on the Mulda of the killer family to indicate social prestige.Family mulda is inheritable and transplantable from one settlement to the other when the need arises.During weddings, the bride must pass through the mulda of the bridegroom's family before the elders give their best wished and bless the new couple.

Clan muldas,which are the property of the ten clans of the Karo and which are fixed outside of the Karo settlement, consist of six "Y" shaped wooden posts up on which piles of wood are laid horizontally.During a bull jumping ritual,the initiate mustpass through the mulda of his own clan.

THE KARO SETTLEMENTS-DUS ,KORCHO AND LABUK

There are three settlements in Karo -Dus,Korcho and Labuk. Although there is more than two hours walking distance between the two settlements,Dus and Korcho are considered by the people to belong to the same united settlement for many reasons.

Korcho is a latter development that came about as a result of some inconveniences associated with the farming ,crop protection, harvesting, and transporting of agricultural products from their main agricultural fields situated on the shores of lake Diba.All Karo come to Dus to attend wedding ceremonies and rituals of pilla (leaping accross cattle).

Dus is further sub-divided in to two sections(Nyiwariya and Nyiwaya) and the residents of Korcho belong to one of these divisions in accordance with their former residence prior their movement to Korcho.In the middle of each section there are open public meeting grounds known as pallo.Shifting of residence from one section of the setlement to the other is done only under the permission and supervision of elders.Each Dus sub-division has its own dancing place .More over ,people living in each of these sections have there own shelters called shuppa where they pass most of the hours of the day until the heat of the sun becomes less in the afternoon and where they play a Karo board game called Warre.

Still another place (actually a tree) called Mero is found in the outskirt of the settlement where people discuss issues related to drought,epidemic,and their relations with neighbouring groups.

THE KARO BULL JUMPING

The jumping of Bulls is known by the Hamar as Ukuli Bula while it is known by the Karo as Pilla. When preparing himself for the pilla, the Karo initiate (halsh) goes either to the Hamar, the Bana,the Bashada,the Nyangatom ,or the Dassanetch to collect cow. The cow brought from the Dassanetch and Nyangatom are not taken back to their owners but rather remain as gifts for the initiate whereas those cows collected from the Hamar,Bana,and Bashada are returned to the owners after the pilla.

At the same time girls from the clan of the initiate leave for Hamar and Bana to exchange sorghum for milk and butter that are essential for the initiation ritual. The initiate is made to eat porridge mixed with fresh milk and changes his hairstyle.

The bull jumping ceremony is some how similar to that of the Hamar with few differences. When the initiate leaps over the cow, if he falls down from the back of the cow, his failure is attributed to his having had too many sexual relations with girls which is believed to have taken his strength. Women and girls from the clan of the initiate who prepare themselves to be whiped by the Maz tie small bells (tongotonge) on to their waists and hold small calabashes (Gungulo), which is normally used to pour out water and coffee from a pot. But on the day of the initiation the calabash is used to smash the Maz in their foreheads thereby triggering them for the whipping.The Karo pilla is finalized after leaping four times ,however,the number of leaps in the Hamar and Bana is undefined.

The Karo have clan owned Mulda which is quite important in the bull jumping ritual.


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