The first time Mingi was explained to me I found it hard to believe. What society would support the killing of healthy children, their children? Mingi is the tribal killing of newborns and infants believed by male elders to be cursed. The elders in the Omo Valley of south-west Ethiopia traditionally believe if allowed to live these children will bring death and widespread suffering to the entire tribe. However, there are people in the community making moves to end this.
Ceremonies have been held in which the men of the Kara tribe met to discuss the end the superstitious killing of children in their community. Below is the first part of a ceremony to end Mingi in the Kara tribe. It occurred in a wooded area near a Kara village. This Kara elder discusses the pros and cons of killing babies.
The second part of the ceremony to end Mingi occurred in a Kara village. A sheep was sacrificed to mark the end of Mingi. Almost miraculously the rains started to pour down once they agreed to stop the practice and the elders saw it as a good sign.
The tribal elders traditionally believed that the sun will stop shining or becoming blazing hot, the rains will stop, their crops will die and their animals will become diseased if they do not get rid of ‘cursed’ children. Babies born to unwed mothers, twins, and children with abnormal teeth are declared Mingi and killed. The children are killed by filling the baby’s mouth with dirt and allowing them to suffocate, hitting them in the head with rocks, throwing them in a near by river, or abandoning them in the wild to be eaten by hyenas.
Of course there is contention in the tribe about the decision to abolish the practise. This is the Hamar elder who still makes the decision to kill ‘cursed’ babies and infants.
And this is the Kara elder that helped stop the killing in his tribe.
John Rowe of the United States and Lale Labuko of the Kara tribe are the founders of an organisation called the Omo Child. Lale literally risked his life to end Mingi in his tribe. He had one sister declared Mingi and killed. He received an award from National Geographic for his courageous actions.
Omo Child has been rescuing and caring for Mingi children from the Omo Valley tribal region since 2008. The shelter provides them with a safe, loving home and a quality education. Situated in Jinka in Ethiopia, Lale and others negotiate with the tribes to let the Mingi children live outside the tribe in an effort to save them from certain death.
When a child is determined to be Mingi, they are often left malnourished, meaning that many times rescued children are in need of costly medical attention and lengthy hospital stays when they first arrive. Once tended to, these children receive the best possible education with the goal that they will become future leaders of their communities.
We are currently involved with Omo Child, the only organisation that is attempting to end the ritualistic killing of infants. Epic Photo Tours has been leading culturally immersive photographic expeditions to the Omo Valley since 2007 and will be returning in January in 2017. When we are in the Omo we donate food, medical supplies and school supplies to the Kara, Hamer and Arbore tribes.
Despite this struggle, the painted, pierced, body adorned, lip plate wearing tribes of the Omo Valley are still thriving and love interaction with foreigners. Just as we are watching them, they are really interested in how we dress and act. A meeting of two worlds.
When the Epic Photo Tours group will be in the Omo Valley in January 2017 we will visit the Kara and Hamar villages to see the hope and growth happening in these communities. Lale Labuko will be our host when we visit the Omo Child residence.