Dus lies three hours by truck from the nearest road, and in the wet season it is islanded in a sea of mud. Like many settlements along the Omo, the village is a cluster of huts with goat pens and grain cribs set at the periphery, everything sun bleached, everything washed in dust. Some days dust devils gather outside the village, pacing in the bush like malevolent spirits, spitting soil into the air.
Cattle and goats are a family's most meaningful possessions here, but it is the crops, nourished by the Omo River, that sustain the people of Dus and other villages. After the Omo's seasonal floods soak and replenish the riverbanks, Kara farmers pierce the dark mud with sticks and drop in seeds of sorghum or corn. It is simple, ancient, little different from what the Egyptians did along the Nile. If the floods are meager, the harvest is poor, but the system has kept the Kara here for a long time. The river's predictability allows the 2,000 or so Kara a life without the restless movement of some of their neighbors, who must constantly drive their animals to new pasture. The name of the village—Dus—means, roughly, "I have seen other places, but it is good here. I'll stay."
For generations the tribes of the Omo were shielded from the outside world by mountains, savanna, and by Ethiopia's unique status as the only African nation never to have been colonized by Europeans. In the late 1960s and '70s, anthropologists began recognizing what that meant—people living near the river had largely escaped the colonial blundering and conflict that shredded other societies. The tribes remained intact, migrating, warring, and making peace in ways that had vanished almost everywhere else. Hints of this Africa still appear in the ornamental clay lip plates worn as symbols of beauty by Mursi women or in the seasonal dueling contests of the Suri, who tie on armor made of goat hide and fight each other with long poles. There is still the Hamar ritual in which women demand to be whipped until they bleed, and there's the cattle-jumping initiation rite, in which boys run along the backs of cattle to prove they are ready for manhood.
Today the Omo Valley is a destination for wealthy tourists who cross vast, uncomfortable distances to witness those same rituals—vanloads of white faces, most from Europe, hoping for something of the Africa that exists in the Western imagination, all wild animals and face paint and dancing. Tourists say they have come to see the Omo before it becomes like everywhere else, as though a McDonald's might suddenly descend from the sky.
Yet it's true: The Omo region, still one of Africa's most intact cultural landscapes, is changing. The big game are mostly gone, hunted out with weapons that flow in from wars across the borders in Sudan or Somalia. Aid organizations deliver food, build schools, and plan irrigation projects, all of which make life more stable but inevitably, unstoppably, change the way it has long been lived. The government, which for generations essentially ignored this place, now works to modernize Omo tribes, and some officials speak as if timetables have been drawn up describing exactly when and how the old ways will be replaced. Not long before my visit, government representatives offered new incentives to tame the warring tribes and incorporate them into the nation. Blood feuds, like the one tugging at Dunga Nakuwa, are meant to be a thing of the past.