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Welcome to Mursi Online

The Mursi live in the lower valley of the River Omo in southwestern Ethiopia and number around 10,000. This website was launched in 2007 in hopes of correcting the exoticised view of the Mursi found in guide books and travel articles. It was to do this by providing accurate and reliable information about Mursi history, culture and environment and about the pressures they and their neighbours are under today. In the past decade, however, the Mursi have faced a number of  new challenges, and the website’s goals have shifted along with them. In addition to providing additional context, the site now serves as a source of information on the challenges they and their neighbours face.

The challenges stem in the first instance from the construction of the Gibe III dam (completed in 2016). The upstream dam has profoundly altered the flow of the River Omo, eliminating the annual flood on which the Mursi depended: the Omo flood provided water and nutrients for river-bank farming, which constituted the main source of staple grains. These problems are compounded by the Ethiopian government's plans to devote large parts of the lower Omo to commercial irrigation development.  If these plans are realised, the resident population of agro-pastoralists will be transformed into wage labourers and sedentary cultivators.

In some ways the challenges presented by the dams and plantation schemes resemble those the Mursi have faced in the past. During the twentieth century, the Ethiopian state extended its reach over the region; large areas were designated as national parks as part of efforts to make the area attractive as a tourist destination; periodic conflicts between the lowland agro-pastoralist groups and their highland neighbours led to state intervention and arbitration.

In other ways, the current situation is more critical than anything they have faced before. The mega-projects have jeopardised access to the vital resources on which they depend; ‘getting out of the way’ (moving to a more favourable location) is no longer an option; and the state has not provided compensation or restitution for the resources it has claimed. For this reason, the Mursi have by necessity earned a place in the global movement for social and environmental justice.

Mursi Online was established by David Turton, an anthropologist whose relationship with the Mursi began in 1968, and who devoted his career to the study of Mursi language, politics, and history. In 2020, the hosting of the site passed to Durham University. In its new incarnation,  the site will see expanded coverage of neighbouring groups, whose ethos, and whose struggles, much resemble those of the Mursi.  The site will continue, we hope, to serve as a point of reference for anyone interested in this part of the world and its people.

Jed Stevenson
Editor, Mursi Online

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