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Shooting with Mursi: A Film About the Mursi People by the Mursi People cover photo

Shooting with Mursi: A Film About the Mursi People by the Mursi People 2010


Distributed by Green Planet Films, PO Box 247, Corte Madera, CA 94976-0247; 415-377-5471
Produced by Pastoralist Communication Initiative
Directed by Olisarali Olibui, Ben Young
DVD, color, 88 min.

Middle School - General Adult
Anthropology, Ethnography, Documentaries, Africa, Ethiopia

Date Entered: 10/27/2015

Reviewed by Christopher Lewis, American University Library, American University

The Mursi are among a dwindling number of nomadic tribes in Africa, most easily identified by the women of the tribe who put saucer-sized plates in their lips. They are a relatively small tribe of just under 9000 members located in the southwest corner of Ethiopia. Having been the subject of numerous ethnographic films over the past 45 years, they are well-known among anthropologists and anthropology students. Most recently, the compelling Framing the Other provided an insightful look at the relationship between the Mursi and the tourists who visit them. What sets Shooting with Mursi apart is that it was produced and directed by a member of the tribe, Olisarali Olibui. The filmmaker’s stated intention is to show the struggle of the Mursi to the world, as their nomadic lifestyle has become endangered. With a Kalashnikov nearby, Olibui vividly captures the tensions the tribe faces as national politics and the modern world encroach on their way of life.

The film has much to recommend as it addresses many of the tribe’s daily practices including tending cattle, bartering for wives, the tradition of the lip plates, the negative influence of tourism on their work ethic and rituals, their system of justice, and their relations with other tribes.

The nomadic lifestyle of the Mursi is necessary to avoid overgrazing of their cattle, on which they depend, but they are now finding themselves squeezed between national parks where grazing and hunting is prohibited. Some of their anxiety stems from a lack of communication with the government and the fear that their interests are ignored. Another threat is the battle over lands with other tribes. An opportunity to speak with the manager of the Omo National Park sheds light on the government’s intentions to help the local communities cooperate and become sustainable. The Mursi are also being taught to use modern medicine to combat two constant threats, malaria and snake bites.

Indicative of the tensions that suggest the need for Kalashnikov machine guns is the tribe’s adjudication of a murder case. Following the killing of a Mursi woman in a local town populated by members of the Aari, a neighboring tribe, a few young Mursi men take revenge by killing several Aari farmers. The Mursi, who are governed by a group of elders decide the punishment for the killers is to be a severe beating with whips that’s administered over three days to not just the culprits but all men in their “age set.” The beatings are accompanied by lecturing to educate the men on avoiding violence. A large inter-tribal meeting with representatives of several tribes is then held to agree on a punishment that will appease the Aari and the government and keep the peace in the region.

For foundation anthropology classes, the story of the Mursi continues to be significant and this film which brings the story up-to-date and is told by an insider makes this a recommended addition. The film will also be of interest for general documentary studies classes as an example of indigenous filmmaking.