17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Although I feel the spectacular new work of Hans Silvester, as well as "African Ark" (Beckwith/Fisher), can't be beat for beautiful pictures of tribal Ethiopia, I wouldn't want to be without this book, either. Having twice visited 9 of the 10 tribes covered in "Vanishing Africa," this book mentions places and peoples I've seen.
The book is basically a travelog of notes and photos by Giansanti, who, having never been there before, was asked by the publisher to do a photo essay on the people of the area. The difference between this book and the vacation stories and slides of a neighbor is that Giansanti is a professional photographer who had the resources to get around (he hired a small private plane, for example) and to take the time required for creating such a beautiful work. And the pictures are excellent.
The book covers a finite geographical area and a map shows the layout of the ten tribal territories. The promotional hype tends to give the impression this book is the result of many long years of study of these locations. Giansanti, being new to the area, is supported by the historical and cultural notes of historian and traveler Paolo Novaresio. But Novaresio has spent most of his time in other parts of Africa; indeed, Ethiopia is not even mentioned in his detailed bio. Still, the information seems credible and adequate.
The tribes that are covered still exist today much as they did centuries ago. There aren't many places left like this in the world. Still, we have to realize that if a Land Cruiser or airplane can get there, obviously modernity has significantly encroached. Books like this understandably do not tend to highlight that encroachment. The map, for example, fails to include marks of modernity (scarce as they are) such as roads, highways or towns, making it difficult to use the map to orient yourself in the real world. Truth is, many of the activities and peoples pictured here co-exist--in the buffer areas where old converges with new--with people who wear Western clothes, go to school, have some access to healthcare and have had a taste of technology, more or less. Some larger villages even have generated electricity, for example. One seems to get a sense of this confluence of old with new in Giansanti's description of one young man's rite of passage in the "jumping of the bulls" ritual. In this particular case, there almost seemed to be some ambivalence about the event. Maybe this kid is one of many who usually dress in Western clothes and long for full Western enculturation.
But get farther off the beaten path, and you will definitely realize tribal Africa does still exist, and people do appear, in their every-day lives, exactly as pictured--the body paint, the greased or clay-packed hair treatments, the shaving of body hair, the wearing of animal skins.... The Mursi and Surma women do still wear the lip plates. Those nearly untouched areas are increasingly hard to find, but they are still there and it is an amazing land. If you cannot go in person, by all means buy this book (along with the Fisher/Beckwith book, African Ark).
Can't complain about the price.
Subtract half a star because the DVD that comes with the book would not work on my Macintosh. Could this be one of those cases where developers simply throw something together for Windows and ignore the finer platforms? ;-)
LATER NOTE: As mentioned in the revised first line of this review, now there's yet another spectacular work on the peoples of the Omo Valley that must not be ignored. Check out Hans Silvester's amazing work too.