The Omo Valley tribes

The tribes of the lower Omo Valley are among the most fascinating tribes of Africa and the entire world.

The tribes have lived in this area for centuries and have developed survival techniques in a challenging environment. It is believed that over 500,000 tribal people live in this area.

Dassanech Tribe

Dassanech tribe lives just north of Kenya's Lake Turkana. Their neighboring tribe is the Turkana people. The Daasanech are pastoralists (cattle herders), but due to the harsh territory, they have moved south to grow crops and fish. Cattle are used by the tribesman for meat, milk and clothing. Often their cattle die from disease and drought. Of all the tribes in the Omo Valley, the Daasanech are the poorest.

Because the Daasanech people come from multiple ethnic groups, both men and women must agree to be circumcised. There are eight clans that make up the Daasanech tribe, each having its own name. They are the Elele, Inkabelo, Inkoria, Koro, Naritch, Oro, Randal and the Ri'ele. Each clan is defined by its territory with the Inkabelo being the wealthiest. During a ceremony, the Dassanech men dance with large sticks and the women hold wooden batons. A Daasanech man blesses his daughter's fertility and future marriage by celebrating the Dimi. During the Dimi 10 to 30 cattle are slaughtered. Both men and women wear fur capes while they feast and dance. A Dimi ceremony will most likely take place in the dry season.

 

Mursi Tribe

The Mursi people are the most popular in Ethiopia's Omo Valley. They are well known for their unique lip plates. They are settled around the Omo River and in the Mago National Park. Due to the climate, they move twice a year between the winter and summer months. They herd cattle and grow crops along the banks of the Omo River. The Mursi women paint their bodies and face in white. They also are the ones who wear the lip plates. Women of the Mursi tribe may have their lips cut at the age of 15 or 16. A small clay plate is then inserted into the lip. Through the years, larger plates are inserted into the lip causing it to stretch. The larger the clay plate, the more the woman is worth before she gets married. It is said that the clay plates were originally used to prevent capture by slave traders. Although very unique and part of their tradition, the Mursi women only wear the plates for a short time because they are so heavy and uncomfortable.

Men of the Mursi also use white paint for their bodies and faces. Just like any other ethnic tribe in the lower valley, the men must pass a test before they can get married. A Mursi man is given a stick called a Donga and must face one opponent. The men then battle it out, beating Man of the Mursi Tribe with body scars each other with the sticks. The first fighter to submit loses and the winner is taken by a group of women to determine who he will marry. Men of the tribe also practice scarification. Like other tribes, this is the marking of an enemy killed by him. Although they are known to be aggressive and combative, the Mursi are peaceful if you treat them with respect.

Hamar Tribe

Hamar are one of the most known tribes in Southern Ethiopia. They inhabit the territory east of the Omo River and have villages in Turmi and Dimeka. Tourists visit the hamer hoping to see a traditional leaping ceremony (the jumping of bulls). They are cattle herders and practice agriculture. Very colorful bracelets and beads are worn in their hair and around their waists and arms. The practice of body modification is used by cutting themselves and packing the wound with ash and charcoal. Some of the women wear circular wedge necklaces indicating that they are married. Men paint themselves with white chalk to prepare for a ceremony. Hair ornaments worn by the men indicate a previous kill of an enemy or animal. The Hammers have unique huts that are made up of mud, wood and straw. The traditional bull jumping is a rite of passage for men coming of age. The event last three days and a hut used by the Hamer or Hamar tribe involves only castrated cattle. The man must jump over a line of 10 to 30 bulls four times completely nude without falling. If this task is complete, the man joins the ranks of the Maza. Maza are other men that have successfully completed the bull jumping event. During this ceremony, the women of the tribe provoke the maza to whip them on their bare backs. This is extremely painful and causes severe scarring on the women. The scars are a symbol of devotion to the men and are encouraged by the tribe. Night dancing called evangadi is also a hamer tradition.

 

Bodi or Me'en Tribe

The Bodi people live close to the Omo River. South of the Bodi are the Mursi tribe. They are pastoralists (livestock farmers) and agriculturalists. Along the banks of the river, they will grow sorghum, mais and coffee. They live with their cattle herds and livestock plays a large role in the tribe. Men of the Bodi are typically overweight because they consume large amounts of honey. The men wear a strip of cotton around their waist or walk around naked. In June, the Bodi celebrate Ka'el. This is a tradition that measures the body fat of a contestant. Each family or clan is allowed to enter an unmarried contestant. The winner of this contest is awarded great fame by the tribe. Men also wear a headband with a feather attached to it during rituals. The women in the tribe wear goatskin skirts and have a plug inserted into their chin.

Arbore Tribe

The Arbore tribe is a small tribe that lives in the southwest region of the Omo Valley. They have ancestral and cultural links to the Konso people and perform many ritual dances while singing. The Tsemay people are their neighboring tribe. Arbore people are pastoralists (livestock farmers). They believe that their singing and dancing eliminates negative energy and with the negative energy gone, the tribe will prosper.

The women of the tribe cover their heads with a black cloth and are known to wear very colorful necklaces and earrings. Young children will wear a shell type hat that protects their heads from the sun. Body painting is done by the Arbore using natural colors made from solid and stone. Traditional dancing is practiced by the tribe and wealth is measured by the number of cattle a tribesman owns.

 

Ari Tribe

The Ari people inhabit the northern part of the Mago National Park in Ethiopia and have the largest territory of all the tribes in the area. They have fertile lands allowing them to have several types of plantations. An Ari's crop can consist of grains, coffee, fruits and honey. It's also common for them to have large herds of livestock.

Their women are known for selling pottery and wearing skirts made from banana trees called enset. Tribe members wear a lot of jewellery and have many piercings in their ears. They wrap beads and bracelets around their arms and waist for decoration. The Ari are known to paint and scar their bodies as part of their culture. You can find some of the Ari people visiting the market in Key Afer.

 

Bana Tribe

They are neighbors with the Hamer tribe and it is believed that the Bena actually originated from them centuries ago. The markets in Key Afer and Jinka are often visited by them.

Just like most of the indigenous tribes in the lower Omo Valley, the Bena practice ritual dancing and singing. The men often have their hair dressed up with a colorful clay cap that is decorated with feathers. Both the men and women wear long garments and paint their bodies with white chalk. Women of the tribe wear beads in their hair that is held together with butter. The Bena look very similar to the Hamer and are often called the Hamer-Bena. Common rituals and traditions of other tribes are shared by the Bena. The boys in the tribe participate in bull jumping. When it is time for the boy to become a man, he must jump over a number of bulls naked without falling. If he is able to complete this task, he will become a man and be able to marry a woman.

 

Nyangatom or Bumi Tribe

The Nyangatom or Bumi people live south of the Omo National Park, but occasionally move to the lower regions if food or water is scarce. Known to be fierce fighters, they are often at war with Hamer and Karo tribes. Different from other tribes, the Bumi tribesmen hunt crocodiles using harpoons and a canoe.

Scarification is practiced by both men and women in the tribe. The women do it to beautify themselves and the men to signify a kill. Both sexes wear a lot of multi colored necklaces and may also have a lower lip plug.

The tribe practices both agriculture and cattle herding. Flood waters must recede along the river's banks before they will plant their crops. Beehives are smoked out by the Bumi and they gorge themselves with the honey.
 

Kara Tribe

The Kara is a small tribe with an estimated population between 1,000 and 3,000. They are closely related to the Kwegu tribe. They live along the east banks of the Omo River in southern Ethiopia and practice flood retreat cultivation. The crops that are grown by them are sorghum, maize and beans. Only small cattle are kept because of the tsetse flies. These flies are large and consume the blood of vertebrate animals.

Like many of the tribes in the Omo, they paint their bodies and faces with white chalk to prepare for a ceremony. The chalk is mixed with yellow rock, red iron ore and charcoal to make its color. Face masks are worn at times and they have clay hair buns with feathers in them. Red clay mixed with butter is put into their hair and clothing is made from animal skin. The women scar their chest believing it makes them beautiful.

The men's scars represent an enemy or dangerous animal killed. They also wear clay hair buns which symbol a kill. A man in the tribe can have as many wives as he wants, but must be able to afford them. Most men will only marry two or three. The traditional bull jumping is a rite of passage for men coming of age.

 

Konso Tribe

The Konso live in an isolated region of the basalt hills. The area is made up of hard rocky slopes. A Konso village maybe fortified by a stone wall used as a defensive measure. Their village is located on hilltops and is split up into communities, with each community having a main hut. In order to enter a Konso village, you must pass through a gate and a series of alleys. These paths are part of it's security system, keeping the village difficult to access. They are mixed agriculturists using their dry and infertile lands to grow crops. Animal dung is used to fertilize the grounds and their most important crop is the sorghum. Sorghum is used as a flour and to make local beer. Grains, beans, cotton, corn and coffee are also grown by the Konso people. The erection of stones and poles is part of the Konso tradition. A generation pole is raised every 18 years, marking the start of a new generation. The age of a village can be determined by how many poles are standing. Carved wooden statues are also used to mark the grave of a famous Konso tribal member. The marker, called a Waga is placed above the grave and smaller statues are then placed around the larger one representing his wives and conquered enemies. Although the Konso people have many customs dating back hundreds of years, it is not uncommon for them to be seen wearing western clothing. As newer generations grow, their traditional attire has gradually changed to modern societies.

Kwegu Tribe

The Kwegu or Muguji are one of the smallest tribes in Omo Valley, living in small villages along the Mago River. It is believed that the devastating effects from the Gibe III dam being built on the Omo River will cause the tribe to go extinct.Unlike the other tribes, the Kwegu do not have cattle. They are hunters and live off the land. Small game are trapped by the tribe for food, but they also eat fruits and honey if available. They are largely dependant on the Omo River for fish to eat. Close relatives to the Kwegu are the Karo people. It is often that you can find Kwegu and Karo people living together or even marrying each other.

Tsemay Tribe They are found living in the semi-arid region of the Omo Valley. These people are agro-pastoralist and use both livestock herding and agriculture to survive. Common crops grown by the tribe are sorghum, millet and sometimes cotton. Like the Hamer tribe, the Tsemay boys have to successfully complete a bull jumping event.  To prove a boy has accomplished a bull jumping, he is outfitted with a band that has feathers on it. It is worn on his head and it shows that he is now looking for a wife. Unlike any other tribe in Ethiopia, the Tsemay have arranged weddings. The parents of the woman pick who she will marry with or without her consent. Even if the marriage is arranged, the man must still be able to afford to pay for his future wife. Payment of cattle, honey, grain and coffee beans are accepted. Women of the tribe who are not married, wear a short leather skirt with a v-shaped apron attached. Married women wear long leather dresses with an apron that have an apron covering their front and back side. The men in the tribe are found carrying small wooden seats to sit with.

 

Turkana Tribe

The second largest pastoral tribe in Kenya, the Turkana are nomadic (move from place to place). They live in northern Kenya around Lake Turkana. In 1975 the lake was named after the them. Their land is mostly dry desert regions and they depend on the rainy seasons for survival. Because water is so scarce in the area, they often fight with other tribes over territory. They are known to be very aggressive and dangerous. Traditional beliefs of the Turkana have hardly been affected by western civilization. The Turkana pray to Akuj for rain during the dry season. Akuj is their god and they will make animal sacrifices hoping to please it.

Like most indigenous people, the Turkana value their cattle. The cows provide them with food and a higher status. Other animals such as, camels, donkeys, goats and sheep are kept by them. Being nomadic people, they are constantly searching for better land and more water. Very colorful people, they dress themselves up with necklaces and bracelets. Decorations are madeA Turkana tribe hut with brown, red and yellow colors. Men cover their heads with mud and paint it blue with feathers. They tattoo their bodies to show that they have killed an enemy. Something different from the other tribes in Africa, the Turkana do not allow circumcision among its people. Women are only considered adults after they are married and men can marry as many wives as he can afford. In the Turkana tribe, a married woman will wear different type of jewelry then a single woman.