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"A visit to the Omo Valley - Ethiopia: - home to Africa's oldest Tribes and cultures"

This is a wonderfully unique look into the tribal people of Ethiopia. The villages in the Lower Omo Valley haven’t been influenced by the outside world. Here you’ll interact with people whose culture is dramatically different from your own.

Visit Daasanach village, try not to stare at the Mursi’s unbelievable lip-plates, or view the jumping of the bull’s ceremony with the Hammer. The region itself is a lovely open savannah leading up to forests in the hills.

The beating heart of this region is the Omo River. It flows from the mountains of southern Ethiopia, through vast savannahs and the desert, and after about 1000 kilometers it flows out into Lake Turkana in Kenya. It never reaches the sea. 

The river basin of the Omo Valley is very fertile, even a small patch of land can contain a lot of crops, and many indigenous people from different cultural backgrounds live together. Anthropologists believe this was once an important trail for nomadic people and that various groups decided to stay here in the distant past. 

Nowadays, most of these people are nomadic or semi-nomadic. They travel through the savannahs and forests with their herds. They differ in traditional household habits, in hunting and agricultural techniques and in the manner in which they make appliances and jewellery.

However, most remarkable to other cultures are the ways they decorate their bodies. They use special techniques, such as piercing of parts of the body, most prominent with women. They may wear clay plates in their ear lobes or lower lips, and to wear this ornament, they often have their lower teeth removed. In some cultures, a metal jewel shaped like a nail is worn under the lower lip and pierced through the chin. People here consider earrings, bracelets, and necklaces to be popular esthetic ornaments.

The scarifications are also very special. These are ornamental scars men and women have on their bodies. They are the ultimate decorative ideals: physical beauty acquired through pain. Besides this, men often have their bodies painted. They use paint to apply all sorts of decorative shapes to each other. They also regularly wear a headdress of dried clay. Learning about these cultural traditions makes a trip to the Omo Valley truly unique.

Tribes of the Omo Valley:

The Mursi are among the most well-known people in this area. They call themselves Mun. The women wear Suri dishes through the lower lip as decoration. They also regularly decorate their face with paint and deliberately apply scars for decoration if they have defeated an enemy. At present, less than 10,000 Mursi live between the Omo River and the Mago River. 

The Suri are known for the large plates in the lower lip in women, which can be up to 15 centimeters in size. For this, their bottom teeth are usually removed. The clay dish is often decorated with various motifs. They live in small villages in the Omo Valley. These people have often been hunted for the last centuries. The Suri, Mursi, and Me’en (or Bodi), are often described as being similar because of their corresponding culture. The languages are also similar.

Hamer (or Hamar):
The Hamer are among the best-known people from this part of Africa. They breed cattle and are world famous because of ‘bull jumping’: an ancient ritual in which come of age and show their strength by jumping over cows. The colorful women usually dress in two animal sheets. These are exquisitely decorated with beads and cowry shells. Both men and women regularly decorate their hair with grease and ochre. Girls wear aluminum decorations on their foreheads. The Hamer lives around the Omo River.

Bana (or Benna):
The Bana dress in animal skins and live in one place. The men wear clay loincloths and sometimes wear braided hair. They keep cattle and live east of the Omo River, above the Turkana Lake located in neighboring Kenya. 

Konso (or Xonsita):
The Konso are mostly known for their wagas, which are timbre carvings in the form of wooden ancestral images. As an important person dies, the best artist makes a waga. Most Konso live in the village of Karat-Konso, often just called Konso.

Daasanach (or Geleb):
Within the Daasanach, especially the unmarried girls stand out. They sometimes wear dozens of metal rings around the ankles and calves. The men decorate their hair with colored earth and feathers. The Daasanach keep cattle and live along the Omo River, near the most southern part of the Omo Valley, just above the Lake Turkana. These semi-nomadic people suffer from drought and floods. When a farmer loses his cattle, he hunts Nile crocodiles. There are about 25,000 Daasanach in the Omo Valley. 

There are not many Karo people left. According to official counts, there are no more than 1,500 tribal members. Both men and women adorn themselves exuberantly with paint on their entire bodies. In addition, the women often pierce a sharp metal object into the chin as decoration.

Bodi (or Me’en):
The name Bodi is actually a collective name for the Mela and Chirim peoples. Although they grow sogo (grassland) along the banks of the Omo, they are mainly dependent on cattle breeding. Their appearance is less exuberant than in other cultures.

Women often pierce their chin as decoration, and men have scarifications (decorative scars) on their bodies. The men often put on extra weight, as it is a sign of strength. In addition, the average length of the men stands out. This is about two meters. Most Bodi live near Bachuma and east of the Omo River.

Tsamai (or Tsemay):
The Tsamai are a lesser-known people from this area. They decorate themselves with colorful beads. There are less than 10,000 Tsamai people. Scientists have learned that the Tsamai are closely linked to the Daasanach and the Arbore peoples.

The Aris attire is considered to be the most colorful in the area. The women’s skirts are made of twigs, grass, and straw and then stained with red loam soil. The Ari are also famous for their pottery, which is popular with tourists. The Ari live in the northern part of Mago National Park.

The Dizi are some of the few farmers in this area. They grow sorghum (a kind of corn), corn, taro, yam, and beans. The Dizi live on the edge of the Omo National Park, in the cooler highlands. A large number of them live in the village of Adikas. The tribal members often use the colors pink and purple in their robes.

The Bumi are famous for the men’s scarifications. Women wear jewelry through their chins, mostly of copper. The men wear jewelry as well but made from ivory. The Bumi has about 6,000 to 7,000 members, and are known to be quite aggressive to the neighboring cultures. They live south of the Omo National Park.

A house in a Dorze village is also referred to as an Elephant house. Its shape resembles an elephant and can be as high as 12 meters. You could also say that they resemble a beehive. They are made of timber frames with bamboo walls. Banana leaves are also used for ventilation. If you ask politely, you may be allowed to take a look inside.

You will find that not just the people live in the house, but the cattle sleep inside as well. If you visit this village, ask about the story behind these huts. The elders of the village, in particular, will be able to explain to you what the importance of the house is for a family.

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