Shooting with Mursi


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Olisarali Olibui, a member of one of Africa’s most isolated tribes carries a Kalashnikov in one hand and a camera in the other, with which he chronicles the struggle of his tribe to protect their land and way of life. Olibui grew up in remote Mursiland where, after seeing westerners with cameras, he realised that film making was a way of showing the world Mursi culture. He was sent to Australia by the local mission to learn English and this skill gave him the means to pursue his interest. He was given a video camera and started documenting his tribes activities.
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shooting-with-mursi-DVD-COVER_smOlisarali Olibui, a member of one of Africa’s most isolated tribes carries a Kalashnikov in one hand and a camera in the other, with which he chronicles the struggle of his tribe to protect their land and way of life. The Mursi are an Ethiopian tribe of fewer than nine thousand people, a nomadic group of pastoralists who live in an area of the Omo valley the size of Wales.

Olisarali Olibui grew up in remote Mursiland where, after seeing westerners with cameras, he realised that film making was a way of showing the world Mursi culture. In 2000 Olisarali Olibui went to Australia where he learned English and returned with a video camera, a laptop and a solar charger. He decided to use the kit to portray his people’s lifestyle and culture and to give them a voice. And the Mursi certainly have a voice.

When Olisarali interviews his people on camera they feel constrained by no inhibition, shyness or reticence. They open up freely to one of their own and the subtitled translations of their comments are well observed and frequently hilarious.

The Mursi live in a Kalashnikov culture. Pressured on all sides by national parks and traditional enemies, the tribes constantly fight and raid each other for cattle. For cattle are the currency by which a man’s wealth is measured. Thirty eight cows and a Kalashnikov for a wife. They drink the blood of cattle mixed with milk, eat sorghum and corn and pick wild coffee. In the dry season they move near water. In the rainy season they seek out the lushest pasture for their precious cattle.

Produced and directed by Ben Young, Shooting with Mursi was made at an interesting time because roads are being built and tourists are appearing; to gawk, to snap and to underpay the Mursi. This film may well prove to be an historic record of a way of life doomed to extinction or major change.

The women say lip plates are a mark of beauty prized by men and women alike. All the viewer can think of is how do they eat. Or kiss. They take them out in the grass hut villages and put them in again when tourists appear.

The Mursi have no single leader and no system of arrest. They arrive at decisions by meeting until a consensus is reached. If one member of an age set misbehaves, the entire age set gets punished. So we have the spectacle of the film-maker himself being beaten by elders with sticks as part of an age set that caused trouble. This is the first time this ritual has ever been filmed.

The nearby national parks and game reserves are a big problem to the Mursi. While rich tourists spend up to $3000 a day shooting without mercy, the tribes people are not allowed inside. Nor are their cattle. The Mursi feel they have not been properly consulted about the parks.

Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz pops up from somewhere to declare that in his view pastoralists need to be better organised if they are to preserve some of the characteristics of the nomadic lifestyle.

In an effort to initiate some organisation, The film ends with a large gathering of pastoralist tribes in Nyangatom in southern Ethiopia where, there is much talk of peace and appeals for peace. Peace, it seems, is the prerequisite for progress in pastoralist society. Shooting with Mursi is indeed well named.

Paul Sullivan, 30th March 2009

Directors: Ben Young, Olisarali Olibui
Country: Ethiopia / UK
Year: 2010
Running Time: 55 mins

DVD format: PAL, all Regions

Winner Special UNESCO Award – Millenium Film Festival, Brussels 2011
Winner Best Documentary – National Geographic All Roads Film Festival 2010.
Honourable Mention for Olisarali Olibui – Jean Rouch Film Festival, Paris 2010.
Official selection – San Francisco Green Film Festival 2011.
Official Selection – Mountainfilm at Telluride 2010.
Official Selection – Margaret Mead Film Festival, New York 2010.
Official selection – Goettingen Film Festival, Germany 2010.
Official Selection – Vancouver International Film Festival.

The film was also chosen for a special screening at The European Parliament with a Q&A afterwards.
The event aimed to promote awareness of the 8 Millennium Development Goals.

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  1. staffadmin

    Documentaries about Ethiopia:
    Shooting with Mursi
    Posted in May 22nd, 2011 by Alicia in Africa, Culture, Ethiopia, Movies

    The title of the film makes a double reference, the first one to shooting with a camera, and the second one to shooting with an automatic weapon, something that every Mursi man carries always with him for protection.

    The film was shot by Olisarali Olibui, a member of the Mursi tribe in SW Ethiopia. Olisarali traveled to Australia to learn English and returned to his homeland with a powerful weapon, a video camera. He even mentions in the film that a camera is even more powerful than a gun, since it lets him show the culture of his people from their own point of view and a film can travel farther that any bullet and reach the whole world, changing people’s minds.

    The documentary is a bit raw in the sense that it hasn’t been polished and edited as a Western documentary would have been, but thanks to that, it’s more real, documenting events as they were happening in front of the camera, showing a culture from the inside, the tensions and forces at work in a changing world that is forcing ancient tribes to change or die.
    We are used to hear the voices of outsiders who discuss what to do with these tribes. Many think that they should stay as they are, like a living museum for tourists to visit and take pictures. Others propose to assimilate them, claiming that they have to participate in modern culture and its advantages and that is something unavoidable.
    But what do the members of these tribes think? Has anyone asked?

    The man behind the camera has experienced the Western world and has returned home to record the thoughts of his people.

    What do the Mursi people think about progress and change, about assimilating, about tourists? This documentary answers those and more questions and to understand the Mursi perspective we need to have an open mind and see the world as they see it.

    What becomes clear in this film is that the Mursi, and other tribes of the Omo river valley, have no voice in the decisions regarding their land. They are the original inhabitants of this place, however it is people from far away places the ones who are managing their land and directly affecting their life.

    I don’t know if they will ever be heard but to keep their culture and their land protected they need to have some kind of participation in the decisions. I know it’s complicated, but my impression after watching the film is that they should help in managing the land since they had been living there for so long and have taken good care of the place. They also need to profit from tourism since they are those who put their faces, their bodies, and their culture for everyone to see. If that doesn’t happen, their culture will soon be destroyed and the richness of a land will go with it. The Mursi should in some way accommodate to the modern world, so they can advocate for themselves. I also think that the documentary shows that there is little interest in hearing what these people think. To survive, the tribes of the Omo river valley, about 15 of them, need to make peace and arrive to some kind of consent so they can organize and claim their right to participate in the decisions regarding their region.

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