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Turkana Festival; incredible tribes of Northern Kenya

Kenya safari

I have finally made it back to Kenya and hope to catch up on some post before my safari season kicks off in a few weeks. This past May I took a small group of photographers with me to the Turkana Festival and it was incredible this year! Whether you drop in by charter aircraft or take the adventurous drive across the Chalbi desert to this remote tribal region, your first view of Lake Turkana is magical. Known as the Northern Frontier, the Turkana Basin remains one of the most untouched tribal regions in Africa. Lake Turkana, also known as the Jade sea, straddles the Ethiopian border. The Omo River feeds Lake Turkana and the beautiful tribes along the Omo River continue down through this entire region.

Nowhere else in Africa, or in the world, do I know of an event where so many exotic, colorful tribes gather in one area. The Turkana festival was started as a way to unite the tribes as a community, and promote peace between them. As many as 14 different tribes/ethnic groups such as the Randille, Samburu, Turkana, Dassanach Gabra, Borana, El Molo, Konso, Sakure, Garee, and Waata will gather in a kaleidoscope of color, dressed in their most elaborate traditional clothing, beading, head ornaments, and paint made from the red ochre. Simultaneously, during the festival, the tribes will gather in their individual groups playing traditional instruments, singing, and dancing for hours at a time. There simply is no way to describe the sensory overload of colors and sounds; one must simply experience it to believe it.

We spent several days at the festival where we could freely photograph all the tribes, but I was also able to arrange special private visits to various villages and incredible photographic opportunities along the shoreline of the lake. I have been spending a lot more time up in this Northern Frontier region, building relationships with the tribes, as I used to spend a lot of time in the Omo, before it opened up and mass tourism came into the area. This area is still under-explored and raw. However, as I wrote for years about the Omo, this amazing remote tribal region is changing at lightening speed. Now is the best time to visit, while it is still special and before mass tourism and photography groups flood into this area along with all the modern changes soon to come when one of the largest wind power projects is complete.

Besides the festival, a highlight of our trip, we also visited two of Kenya’s premier wildlife reserves; namely Amboseli and Samburu. Africa is an incredible tapestry of ancient cultures, exotic wildlife, and dramatic ecosystems, which are mesmerizing for the eyes, mind, and soul. Only in Kenya am I able to offer such an incredible mix of both tribes and wildlife on a single safari. You can download a free copy of my ebook on Kenya to view photographs from all the locations we visited or join us for the Turkana Festival and Wildlife Safari in 2017 and capture your own incredible images.  Continue reading here


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Piper Mackay is a world, wildlife and cultural photographer, based in Long Beach, California. She believes compelling visual images help to protect what is right in the world. Her work takes her to very remote locations, living cross culturally in the villages and environments that she is documenting.

Her work is heavily concentrated on the African continent, a land she fell in love with when she first touched foot on it’s rich red soil. Her passion for the natural world has grown into a lifelong commitment to inspire others to explore, respect and preserve the beauty of our fragile planet.

She believes compelling work comes when you invest time, living the stories you are trying to tell. It is important to interact and gain the trust of those whose stories you are telling, especially when sensitive and complicated. The world has enough images of poverty, pain and disaster, much more needful is imagery that reveals the beauty and dignity of the communities that are, except by their geography and circumstances, very similar to our own. Powerful images help shape the view of the world and play an important role in disseminating how cultures and wildlife are coping with the rapid changes happening in the developing world.

Piper’s images have been displayed at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, The Museum of History and industry, and The Art Wolfe gallery, as well as local galleries. Her work has been featured in Nature and travel publication through representation of several photo agencies, including Rangefinder, Nature’s Best, Birders, and the World Wildlife Fund. She is an independent photographer and available for assignment work.

Her prior career in the fashion industry, where she was deeply involved with combing color and texture, has greatly enhanced her approach to the unique look and feel of each culture and photographic subject. This also gave her a strong background in business and marketing. Please visit Piper’s website at www.pipermackayphotography.com.

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