When I look at this image, I see the closeness of the bodies and the symmetry of the designs on their skin. I see variety, diversity and details in size, individual shapes, and in each hand. I see a community.
The members of this Ethiopian tribe have painted each other with elements taken from the nearby river; meaning they literally wear the earth on their bodies. The texture and tones layered over the rich, warm, underlying color of their skin offers depth and substance. The lines inscribed in the paint resemble the river’s flow and reflect connections they have between siblings, in parent/child relationships, and ties they have with extended family members and even their ancestors.
We might look at this image and ask, “Were they bound, restricted, trapped, forced to join and stay in line?” To which I say, not all—and if they are bound in any way, it is by the intangible feelings that resonate between the self and those who encircle us with love and forgiveness. There is no questioning in that space, only knowing, only peace.
I remember as they lined up one young boy broke away to join other people he knew. As he entered the frame of the camera lens, the older boys put their hands on him in greeting. Their hands almost seemed to me to float like ghost spirits. I’m not cerebral when I look at those powerful, gentle hands: I know only that I wish to be similarly embraced.