The ‘Salt Kingdom’ of the Afar

Text: Angelique van Os | Photography: Henk Bothof

The Afar people from Ethiopia live in one of the hottest areas on earth: The Danakil Depression. The temperature here can be as high as 50 degrees Celsius. Lake Asale is a huge salt pan in the Danakil and lies 115 meters below sea level. This is the ‘salt kingdom’ of the Afar, where they daily chop salt into tablets. The people have been doing this for centuries in an area of about 1200 kilometres. Before the people here start their work in the early morning, they have already travelled tens of kilometres by camel or donkey to fill their jerrycans with water. There are several wells in the surrounding region. Because of the extreme heat they can only do this for one day and have to get water again the next morning or the same evening. There is hardly any rain here during the whole year.

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.

Read the full article in Lonely Planet Afar magazine.

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