The ‘Salt Kingdom’ of the Afar

The Afar people from Ethiopia live and work with their camels in one of the hottest areas on earth: The Danakil Depression. The temperature here can reach up to 50 degrees Celsius.

Text: Angelique van Os | Photography: Henk Bothof

Chop out salt

Lake Asale is a huge salt pan in the Danakil Depression. It is 115 meters below sea level. This is the ‘salt kingdom’ of the Afar, where they daily grind salt into tablets. These people have been doing this for centuries in an area of approximately 1200 kilometers. Before they start their work here in the early morning, they have already traveled dozens of kilometers by camel or donkey to fill their jerry cans with water. Several wells can be found in the surrounding region. Because of the extreme heat, they can only get by for a day and have to fetch water again the next morning or the same evening. There is virtually no rain here all year round.

Traditional salt production

A salt block can weigh up to six kilos. Camels transport the tablets to sell them at various local markets in Tigray, Northern Ethiopia. One camel can carry up to thirty blocks. This traditional method of salt extraction, for which no polluting machines and means of transport are used, shows how closely man and nature can work together. The Afar seems to be the only people in Ethiopia who can do this hard work and withstand the immense heat.

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ethiopia-lake-asale-afar-salt caravan
Salt caravan


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