Omo Valley is undoubtedly one of the most unique places on earth because of the wide variety of people and animals that inhabit it. It is located in Africa’s Great Rift Valley.
The region is known for its culture and diversity. The tribes that live in the lower Omo Valley are believed to be among the most fascinating on the continent of Africa and around the world.
Tours are offered to several towns and villages. It is often you come into contact with the following tribes: Arbore, Ari, Bena, Bodi, Bumi, Daasanech (Geleb), Dorze, Hamer (Hamar), Kara (or Karo), Konso, Kwegu (or Muguji), Mursi, Tsemay, and Turkana when you tour the valley.
It is estimated that the Omo Valley is home to over 200,000 tribal people. Among the ancient Africantribes that live in the southern part of Ethiopia, there is a wide variety of wildlife as well.
Some of the animals that you will find there are the Bitis Arietans (venomous snake), crocodiles and hippopotamuses. The two main national parks in Omo Valley are the Omo National Park and the Mago National Park which are home to the majority of the wildlife in the valley.
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.
Also well known as the hamar or hammer, they are one of the most known tribes in Soutern 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 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 Dorze people are always a delight to visit, as the children begin their unique Dorze “rump-shaker” dance almost before you enter the village! The houses of the Dorze people are tall structures, resembling a beehive. Inside the hut, a section is partitioned off for the family’s animals (cows and goats rather than dogs and cats) to sleep inside during the cold rainy season. The Dorze people are very skilled weavers, providing a vast majority of the country’s traditional cotton gabis and other uniquely Ethiopian clothing. The Dorze in particular prefer bright colorful patterns.
The Arit 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 jewelry and have many piercings in their ears.
Banna, Bana, and Benna are other spellings for the Bena people. 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.
The Mursi or Mursu 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.
Another very gentle tribe, the Dassenech live in the hot dry desert of the lands straddling the border with Kenya. Rare is the Dassenech man or woman who stays in one place for a long period of time, as with most tribes, their lives revolve around feeding and protecting their cattle. Their modest mobile huts reflect this, as they are easily dismantled for quick transport. Situated close to Lake Turkana, they have access to fishing as an additional source of food.
he Karo or 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
Suri, also known as the Surma people live in the southwestern plains of Ethiopia. They raise cattle and farm when the land is fertile. Cattle are important to the Suri, giving them status. The more cattle a tribesmen has, the wealthier they are. In order for a man to marry a women in the Suri tribe, he must own at least 60 cattle.
Cattle are given to the family of the woman in exchange for marriage. Like the other tribes, the Suri will use the milk and blood from the cow. During the dry season, the people will drink blood instead of milk. Blood can be drained from a cow once a month. This is done by making a small incision in it’s neck.
Also spelled Tsamai, 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. This is a ceremony where the boy runs across multiple bulls. If the boy can make it across four times without falling, he becomes a man. 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.