Photographer Eric Lafforgue has pictured unique tribes in remote locations around the world but when he first tried to seek out the Rashaida in Eritrea, Africa, he couldn't find a driver willing to take him. Then when he tried to meet them at a camel market in the United Arab Emirates he was warned by Pakistani workers: 'Do not try to meet them, do not talk to them, they are crazy!' Eric told MailOnline: 'When I first planned to visit the Rashaida, I couldn't find a driver who was willing to take me to their villages in the nearby desert. They regard them as dangerous "gypsies". "They will rob you and then try to steal my taxi," they all told me.
Simple life: The Rashaida people live in tents in the desert despite having vast sums of money acquired through selling camels
Travellers: The nomadic tribe came to Eritrea from Saudi Arabia about 200 years ago
Fearsome reputation: Some members of the tribe have been known to be involved in human trafficking and torture
Striking look: The women wear a veil which covers their nose (a very sexual facial feature in their culture) and their mouth, but not all of their hair
Young bride: A woman must be married by the age of 16 or she is considered too old to be a wife
Battle of the sexes: Daughters are desired over sons because their mother will be paid thousands when she marries. Marriages can be arranged when girls are as young as six
'After tough negotiations, one driver finally agreed to drive me to the Rashaida, but he dropped me off 200 meters from the camp.' So why have the Rashaida, who have led a nomadic lifestyle in the barren and hostile desert for centuries, built up such a fearsome reputation? The Rashaida originally came from Saudi Arabia but can now be found in areas including Egypt, Libya and the Sudan. They move from place to place in search of grass for their camels - which helps them make a fortune as they can sell their prized animals to wealthy sheikhs for as much as £16,000 each. Despite their wealth, they live in tents with no electricity and no running water - although some do embrace modern technology in the form of cars and mobile phones. When Eric eventually meets the Rashaida, he is told by Salam Swalim Muhammed, the chief of the Massawa Rashaida village in Eritrea, of their business selling camels: 'Yes it is a lot of money, but you know we have big families to take care of! We work a lot, trading with Yemen, Libya, Sudan, Saudi Arabia...'
Mobile business: The Rashaida travel from place to place seeking grass for their prized camels
Lucrative creatures: Their camels can be sold for £16,000 each
Wary: The Rashaida can frequently be found at camel markets- although not everyone is brave enough to approach them
Traditional: The tribe earn a fortune from their camels but still live primitive lifestyles
The chief revealed that they shun much of modern technology, including TV because 'the television shows sickness and disasters. Instead of buying sickness with your money, it is better to live happily, peacefully, and freely.' However, as the people's fearsome reputation suggests, not all members of the Rashaida live as peacefully as Muhammed suggests.
A United Nations report explains that they are the master smugglers of everything from guns to people, getting involved in hostage taking and human trafficking.
Eric explains: 'Rashaida also make their money from a less legitimate business. In the refugee camps around Kassala in Sudan, Eritrean people attempting to move on are kidnapped by the Rashaida. Once they kidnap an Eritrean, the victim will have to ask their relatives to wire ransom money to one of the kidnapper’s accounts around the world. If there is any delay in transferring the money, the victim will be physically abused. Testimonies say the more the money transfer is delayed, the more the victim is tortured.' One reason the Rashaida need money is to marry. The groom must pay up to £40,000 to the bride-to-be's mother for her hand in marriage. Such marriages can be arranged when a girl is as young as six. If a woman is not married by the time she is 16, it's considered too late for her to become a wife.
Beliefs: The people abide to Saudi Sharia law
Segrated: Rashaida live in isolated communities, preferring not to live with people of other tribes
The men 'look Arab and wear loose white clothing'. Their simple appearance belies their wealth
Many of the tribe shun modern technology as they prefer to 'live happily, peacefully, and freely'
Different sides: While those pictured are peaceful, others are master smugglers of everything from guns to people
Muhammed explained to Eric that daughters are desired over sons because of the riches they can bring via marriage. If added: 'If a man wants to get married but isn’t rich enough to afford the wife, then the Rashaida from Libya, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia contribute so the groom can afford his bride.' Eric saw no evidence of the Rashaida's wealth or violent pastimes when he was invited to join Muhammed to drink tea under his tent, when he eventually tracked down one of the tribes in Eritrea. He learnt that the Rashaida stay in isolated communities, preferring not to live with people of other tribes. But says Muhammed: 'When we travel, we will be welcomed everywhere by other Rashaida.'
Some Rashaida have moved out of the desert to live in towns such as Kassala in Sudan so their children can go to school. But one ten-year-old boy told Eric that he prefers living in the desert despite the harsh conditions. Describing the enigmatic Rashaida people he met during his stay, Eric said: 'Rashaida men have no special appearance: they look Arab and wear loose white clothing. On the other hand, the women are very striking. They all wear colourful traditional dresses and a veil which covers their nose (a very sexual facial feature in their culture) and their mouth, but not their hair.
'This is rather unusual in the Muslim culture. With long hair, some of them have an amazing style with long black locks jutting out in all directions. 'However, since the Rashaida follow Saudi Sharia law, and more and more have enough money to make the Hadj to Mecca, they come back with new precepts from Saudi Arabia, asking their women to cover the hair.'
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2615159/Meet-gypsies-desert-Photographer-gains-rare-insight-lives-nomadic-Rashaida-girls-betrothed-six-modern-technology-shunned.html#ixzz30UwZW7nH
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