Wonderful narrative written by Stephen Wallace, M.D., J.D. who traveled to Dus Village with OMO CHILD for the historic Kara- End of Mingi Ceremony.
The first time Mingi was explained to me I found it hard to believe. What society would support the killing of children, their children? It is repugnant, so unnatural, for a parent to allow his child to be killed. In fact the survival of our species revolves around the fact that we protect our young from harm. Most parents would die in order to save the life of their child. It was all too hard to wrap my mind around.
Mingi is the killing of babies and small children that are deemed by their own tribe to be a cursed. The Mingi child is felt to be so unlucky to others that if the child is not killed bad luck will befall an entire tribe of people. The practice of Mingi occurs in the tribes of southwest Ethiopia in an area known as the Omo Valley. I just returned from the Omo Valley after my second visit. I traveled with a group dedicated to saving Mingi children, Omochild.org.
The Omo Valley is named for the river that runs down its center. The Omo Valley contains people that continue many ancient practices one of which is Mingi. By our standards these people live under primitive conditions. There is no electricity. There are no cars. The people are semi-nomadic and live by raising crops, cattle, sheep and goats. They wear the hides of cattle and goats. The elders that run the tribe cannot read or write. They do not know their own ages and probably have not traveled fifty miles from their village their entire lives.
It is the elders of the tribes that determine if a child is Mingi. In general, children that are born to unwed mothers, children in which the upper teeth erupt before lower teeth, or twins are considered Mingi children. Therefore, a child that has parents that are not married must die. A child with an upper tooth and no lower teeth must die. If babies are born twins they must die. I told you it was hard to believe. Where or why this practice began is not known. There are no written histories for the involved tribes.
The names of the tribes that practice Mingi are the Kara and the Hamar tribes. The Kara and the Hamar believe if a Mingi child is not killed there could be a drought that could last for years or a disease will overtake and kill the tribe. Any untoward event that harms an individual or the tribe as a whole may be ascribed to the bad luck brought on by a Mingi child. There are individuals working hard to end this practice that has gone on for hundreds if not thousand of years. Their efforts came to fruition when it was announced the Kara tribe would no longer kill Mingi children after July 14, 2012. On that date the Kara tribe ended the practice of Mingi in an official ceremony. I was fortunate to be there.
The first part of the ceremony involved the men of the Kara tribe sitting under a groove of trees just off the Omo River along with invited guests. It was a beautiful setting to end an egregious practice. Many of the Kara elders spoke. The kings of the Hamar tribe spoke. Government officials in casual dress spoke. I do not know what they were saying. They all spoke different languages. There were translators for the translators.
The women of the tribe were pushed off into an inferior area where they could not see the speakers and not participate. I was sure that the women would be ignored. Then a brave woman rose to speak and walked to stand immediately before the men that controlled the actions and thoughts of the Kara tribe. She too was a member of the Kara tribe herself. She stared down at the men with disdain in her eyes and spoke in clear confident tones. Again, I did not understand her language. However at the time I found myself agreeing with whatever she was saying. I later learned she told the men their time had passed. I hope nothing happens to her.
This segment of the ceremony ended with the men hugging and shaking each other’s hands. My sense was they were congratulating themselves for something that should have been done hundreds of years ago.
The second and final part of the ceremony started by the elder males walking in unison to a spot that has historical and spiritual importance to the Kara tribe. Most of the elders wore clothes that did not reflect their native roots. They wore tee shirts, polo shirts, shorts, and sandals. Their dress was no different from ours during the summer except for the bright hats many of them wore. Since they were succumbing to western mores they must have decided to dress as those in what are considered more civilized parts of the world. The elders walked in slowly. They knew they had an audience.
When they got to their special area they sat in a semicircle surrounding a standing sheep and a tribe member holding the sheep. This was not going to be a good day for the sheep. After the elders were in place the sheep was sacrificed. A knife was plunged in the sheep just above the sternum. As the knife ended the life of the sheep the mouth of the sheep was held shut with the left hand of the tribesman as he maneuvered the knife in and out with his right hand. By holding the mouth shut the muted screams of the sheep were muffled. The sheep soon became limp. The tribesman methodically eviscerated the sheep occasionally wiping the blood off his knife on the wool of the animal. After removing the internal organs the sheep was placed on a fire without having its coat of wool removed.
The sheep was cooked on the open fire as one chosen elder stood and talked to the others. When the speaker was done the sheep was removed from the fire and the hindquarters were removed. The meat was offered to some of the elders. The elders bit off, chewed, and swallowed the meat. At that point the killing of Mingi children officially ended for the Kara tribe.
No sooner than the meat had been swallowed the rain began to pour. Everyone ran for cover. I am certain it was nature’s attempt to clean the stain of Mingi from village.
There were no children sitting among the elders during any of the ceremony. However, the spirits of the thousands of children that had been killed by the practice of Mingi hung in the air. The men sitting in a semicircle with blank looks on their faces were the same men that had pulled children from the arms of mothers and later threw the children in the Omo River to drown or to be eaten by crocodiles. These are the same men that took newborn babies miles from the village to be killed and eaten by wild animals. I had to wonder what was behind those blank stares. Were they admitting to themselves the heinous acts they had committed and how wrong they were? Somehow I doubted that.
There was however one member of the Karo tribe that could be proud that day. That person is Lale Labuko. Lale is a young man that has made it his life’s mission to end the practice of killing children in his village. To his own surprise he was successful. Lale risked harm to himself and his family to do what is right. If he accomplishes nothing else in his life he should have the satisfaction of knowing there will be hundreds if not thousands of children who will play, smile, learn, and grow old because of him.
The other person that should be proud that day was John Rowe. He is an American that has used his heart and his money to save the lives of children about to be murdered by the Kara before the official end of the killing. John continues to support thirty-seven children and plans on saving more. John is the founder and driving force behind Omo Child an organization that possibly more than any other in the world directly saves children.
John and Lale’s work is not done. Unfortunately the Kara are not the only tribe killing their own children. The Hamar tribe, which is nine times the number of the Kara tribe, is still killing its children for the same obscene reasons.
I have a great deal of hope that the Hamar people will soon come under the influence of Lale and John. It would be nice if the whole world did.