03/25/2016

Myanmar: The Taunggyi Balloon Festival

The Tazaungdaing Festival is a traditional festival and public holiday in Myanmar. It is also known as the "Festival of Lights" and it is celebrated on the full moon of Tazaungmon, the eighth month of the traditional Burmese calendar. The Tazaungdaing Festival marks the end of the rainy season. In Taunggyi in Shan State hot-air balloons lit with candles are released to celebrate the full moon day and the Tazaungdaing Festival. It is comparable to the Yi Peng and Loi Krathong celebrations in Thailand.

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However, the Taunggyi Balloon Festival it much more than a public holiday. It lasts around 6 or 7 days and it is also a balloon competition and funfair at the same time. Traditionally the festival ends on the full moon day Tazaungmon with the announcement of the winners of the balloon contest. The balloons are beautifully designed and hand-made of traditional mulberry papers and bamboo. They are released day and night during the festival. The balloons for the daytime competition are smaller and usually have the form of pagodas, ducks, dragons or even elephants. The bigger balloons decorated with candles are released at the night time competitions, sometimes even with attached fireworks that explode into the night sky.

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09/21/2015

The Albino Society in Ukerewe, Tanzania

According to the Tanzanian Albino Society the estimation of people with albinism living in Tanzania today is between 180,000 and 270,000. Albinism is an inherited gene disorder, the albino gene is recessive and stops the production of melanin in the skin, hair and eyes. For the Tanzanian albinos it means that every day is a big challenge. They have to protect their skin from the strong sun which can easily cause painful skin burning and could result in premature death due to skin cancer. Albinism is often associated with vision defects like involuntary eye movement or the absence of an iris in the eye.

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Albinism is a disability and as there is no cure it influences massively the daily life of the affected people. It starts in primary school where children with albinism are often rejected by their fellow students. For adults getting a job is very difficult. Traditional field work in the merciless African sun is almost impossible for people with albinism. Many of them end up in their own little shop, they sell fish, fruits or vegetable on the local market, or they work as merchants or salesmen. In Tanzania there is no social security, and although albinos are handicapped they don't get any money from the government.

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04/16/2015

Morani - The Warriorhood Tradition of the Kenyan Tribes

The Samburu people from Northern Kenya are closely related to the people of the Maasai tribe in Southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania. Like most tribes of East Africa the Samburu and the Maasai practice a rigid classification system of their community into age sets and age grades. An age set describes a generation and each individual of the age set remains permanently attached to this set. The age grade (sometimes also called 'age class') describes a stage within the age set. It is the responsibility of the elders of a tribe to initiate a new age set with a specific new name. The initiation of a new age set is always accompanied by a big ceremony, which is certainly one of the most important events of a Maasai or Samburu man's life. The elders of a tribe also determine at which age the young boys enter their first important age grade, the age grade of the warriorhood. The Maa language of the Samburu and Maasai for "warrior" is "moran".

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09/26/2014

The remote villages of the Mursi tribe, Ethiopia

The Mursi are seminomadic pastoralist located on the eastern side of the Omo River near the Mago National Park in South Ethiopia. Sadly, the Mursi have a bad reputation among travelers and tourists. For many visitors is the Mursi tribe one of the main attractions in Southern Ethiopia, especially the women with the huge lip plates. But often tourists are disappointed when they meet the Mursi people on a typical day trip because of their sometimes aggressive behavior. I experienced it myself being part of a group on a day trip to the Mursi in 2008. At that time I was wondering, if it would be possible to stay a couple of weeks in a remote Mursi village to witness the authentic and real life of the Mursi tribe. Over the last 2 years I spent 6 weeks in Suri villages and more than 3 weeks in remote Mursi villages, and I confidently can say: The Mursi as well as their related Suri neighbors are not only fascinating, they are also absolutely likeable, friendly and open-hearted.

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There is a lot to learn about the Mursi, starting with the language, which is fortunately almost identical to the language of the Suri tribe on the western side of the Omo River. They are eager to teach the Mursi language to their visitors, but they are also happy to learn a few words English. On the website Mursi Online even a dictionary exists in Mursi-Amharic-English which is quite helpful for the communication. The dictionary was published by David Turton, Moges Yigezu and Olisarali Olibui in cooperation with the Culture and Art Society of Ethiopia in 2008.

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