Salt harvesting; a way of survival for the Borana people
In the heart of Ethiopia, a young boy among the Borana tribe must learn the difficult trade of salt labour in order to become a full grown Borana with adult responsibilities.
He will first follow his father to the "mouth of the devil", a volcano in which men risk their lives to extract salt. He will then journey to the singing wells, where men form a 30 ft chain to fetch water as they sing. With the camels packed with salt and water, father and son will embark on the salt route, a long and perilous journey across the desert.
The "mouth of the devil" also known as “the house of salt” is an inactive volcano of El Sod found in the southern part of Ethiopia. The crater contains a black lake that in its dark and slimy depths hides a deposit of raw salt crystals that the Borana people have extracted for years as a means of survival.
Apart from grazing as a means of life, salt is another means of subsistence among the Borana, children and women look after livestock at homes while the men dig up salt under the crater to earn money.
Salt harvesting varies by season, and the
best moment to harvest is at the end of the rainy season, from December to January. The water evaporates, the level of the lake is lower, and the salt crystallized on the bottom of the crater is extracted using water to separate it from the black mud that covers it.
At the bottom of this lake estuary, due to the mud, the formation of the crust is very stiff and thick. In order to be able to break the lake bed, they must use poles with pointed heads, and the splash of water everywhere is the best proof of their strength.
The salt formed in the riverbed makes this lake mouth very salty. And once someone breaks the lake bed, he will dive into this incredibly salty water and hold up the huge black stone at the bottom with his bare hands. Then take it to the shore.
Extracting salt is a very difficult task, and it takes a long time to be able to achieve results from the riverbed one after another. And the people who extract salt here will go down to the bottom of the crater for the rest of their lives. There's no special reason for this, it's all about living.
During salt extraction, the divers must be naked because the salt water is so aggressive that it destroys everything including clothes and shoes. Miners try to protect their noses and ears with plugs made of soil wrapped in plastic bags but there is no protection for the eye and so many suffer from blindness.
More than 200 men dive into the lake. More children are joining so as to get extra revenue for their families. The parents are aware of the dangers but they have no choice if they want to survive.
NOTE: The Best time to visit Ethiopia is between October and June when it is the dry season. Rains tend to stop in early Ictober meaning afterwards the highlands are ouch and green - perfect for trekking amongst pretty wildflowers that have sprung up and also visiting rural indigenous communities.
Be sure to bring a sweater all year round due to Eghiopia's elevation.
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