Out of Africa: The incredible tribal fashion show inspired by Mother Nature
By MARCUS DUNK
Last updated at 22:39 19 February 2008
With colourful make-up of bright yellows, startling whites and rich earth-reds, flamboyant accessories and extraordinarily elaborate decorations, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the designs in these images originated in the fevered mind of some leading fashionista.
Yet far from the catwalks of New York, London or Paris, these looks are the sole creation of the Surma and Mursi tribes of East Africa's Omo Valley.
Inspired by the wild trees, exotic flowers and lush vegetation of the area bordering Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan, these tribal people have created looks that put the most outlandish creations of Western catwalk couturiers to shame.
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Here, a leaf or root is transformed into an accessory.
Instead of a scarf, a necklace of banana leaves is draped around a neck.
In place of a hat, a tuft of grass is jauntily positioned.
A garland of flowers, a veil of seed-pods, buffalo horn, a crown of melons, feathers, stems and storks - Mother Nature has provided a fully stocked wardrobe.
Like a dressing-up chest brimming over with costumes and make-up (paint created with pigments from powdered stone), the natural environment is the source for this glorious jungle pantomime.
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Although the origins of this astonishing tradition have been lost over the years - the Surma and Mursi spend much of their time involved in tribal and guerilla warfare - their homeland is a hotbed of the arms and ivory trades.
Fifteen tribes have lived in this region since time immemorial, and many use zebra skins for leggings, snail shells for necklaces and clay to stick their wonderful designs to their heads.
As they paint each other's bodies and make bold decisions about their outfits(all without the aid of mirrors), it seems that the only thing that motivates them is the sheer fun of creating their looks, and showing them off to other members of the tribe.
As a celebration of themselves and of their stunning environment, this is truly an African fashion parade like no other.
• Pictures by Hans Silvester (Rapho/Camera Press) from the book Natural Fashion: Tribal Decoration from Africa by Hans Silvester, published by Thames and Hudson, £19.95.