Cultural Tours Ethiopia

Omo Valley Tribes

Omo Valley Tribes, Visit Omo valley – The Rift Valley

Visit Omo valley – The Rift Valley

Omo valley, Much of Africa’s volcanic activity is concentrated along the immense 6000 km long crack in the earth’s surface known as the Great Rift Valley. Great Rift Valley is great because it is extensive and it was formed by the sinking and tearing apart of the earth. The largest valley on the earth, the Great Rift Valley is one of the planet’s most outstanding features. The Great Rift Valley is not just a subject on the geographical maps. It has already entered into the history looks as it holds the key to our past and the existence of early man on the continent. It is in the Alluvial Gorge (Kenya). In Melka Kunture and Hadar (Afar region) that the bones of our earliest ancestors like “Lucy” were found. It is as if the land broke apart in a rift to display its riches. Ethiopia is often referred to as the “water tower” of eastern Africa because of the many rivers that pour of its high tableland. The Rift valley’s passage through Ethiopia marked by chain of seven lakes fed by different rivers. Each of the seven lakes has its own attractions. The lakes shelter different species of birds and many wild animals. The rift valley is also a habitat for a variety of flora and fauna.

South and Omo Valley Tribes

The Omo valley is situated in the south & southwest of Addis Ababa, which passes through the Great Rift Valley and offers the most attractive and beautiful landscape scenery in the region.

The Omo region is home for most nomadic and semi-nomadic people with different fascinating ethnic groups like the Hammer, Mursi, Karo, Dassenech, Surma, Bena, Ari, Tsemay, Bodi and others.

Visit  Arba Minch

Arba Minch town, located at 505 km South of Addis Ababa was founded in the early 1960s by then Fitawrari Aemeroselasie Abebe and the city succeeded Chencha as the provincial capital of Gamu-Gofa, Arba Minch received its name for the abundant local springs which produce a groundwater forest. Arba Minch. It is situated within the Great African Rift Valley System at an elevation of about 1285 meters above sea level. Arba Minch is warm year around with moderate climate during winter. Arba Minch town is easily accessible by plane. Ethiopian airlines flies three times a week from capital Addis Ababa and it takes only about 45 minutes flight. Arba Minch is also accessible by buses; 4WD.  On the eastern side of Sikela is the gate to Nechisar National Park, which covers the isthmus between Lake Abaya to the north and Lake Chamo to the south.

Travel, Visit, Discover Suri, Surma, Tribes

 “Suri” is the self-name of a little-known group of agro-pastoralists/cultivators straddling the borderland of southwestern Ethiopia and Sudan. They show some historical and cultural affinities with the Nilotic peoples in neighboring Sudan; they are also related to the Ethiopian Mursi and especially the Me’en, other “tribal” groups in this area. The Suri are composed of three subgroups; the Chai and Tirma (very closely related).

 The Suri live in a remote, part of Maji and Bero-Shasha provinces in the Kefa region of Ethiopia.

The Tirma and Chai are typical lowland dwellers whose settlements are all below 1,000 meters, in a semiarid area along one perennial river, the Kibish. Their present habitat lies between 5°10′ and 6°00 N and 35°20′ and 34°10′ E.

Linguistic Affiliation. Like the Me’en and the adjoining Murle, the Suri speak a “Surmic” (formerly called “Surma”) language. It is classified (together with Mursi, which is very similar) as South-East Surmic. The Suri are mostly monolingual: Amharic or languages of the neighboring Dizi and Nyangatom are spoken only by a very small minority.

Cultural and Activities of Suri, Surma, Tribes

The Suri, a non literate group, have no written history, but they do have an oral tradition that contains many historical referents. This oral tradition—reconstructed partly through comparison of genealogies and stories about the movement of clan groups—refers to a migration history of Suri constituent groups, starting in the lower Ormo River area (i.e., north of Lake Turkana). No clues have been found as yet in their tradition to point to a historical base. They claim that in former times their name was “Nagos,” not Suri. They have substantial cultural similarities with the Mursi but deny the idea of an original unity with this group. Both groups place their “core area” in the same region, in the lower Orno Valley. In the early nineteenth century the Suri started to move to the west, toward Naita Mountain (which they call “Shulugui”), on the Sudan-Ethiopian border. Subsequently they migrated toward the highland ridge north of Naita (the “Tirma” range). In general, their oral tradition is dominated by the theme of conflict with their southern neighbors, the Para-Nilotic Nyangatom (an offshoot of the Karamojong cluster, who speak a language very close to Turkana).

The Suri have always lived in closely settled and named villages of 25 to 80 domestic units, averaging from 250 to 350 people per village. Young men have their own “cattle-camp” settlements, near the pasture areas for livestock (which are usually kept together in very large herds). A village is part of a territorial unit called ab’uran, a term derived from the name of the (traditional) place where Suri cattle were herded. Villages are clusters of family units, each with their own small gardens and compounds. Most men have more than one wife, and each wife has her own hut, cooking place, and garden. Young men of herding age live in the cattle camps, which are from six to eight hours’ walk from the permanent settlements.

 The Suri are predominantly cattle-pastoralists, certainly in outlook: they see themselves as free and independent herders. Cattle—and, in addition, goats and sheep—are their most prized possessions and their repository of wealth. Women also have their own cattle, but always in much smaller numbers than their husbands. The permanent villages, however, are the centers of maize and sorghum cultivation. These two products provide the mainstay of the Suri diet, but the Suri absolutely do not consider themselves “peasants” or “cultivators.” Another subsistence activity is hunting: of antelope and virtually all other animals (e.g., buffalo, elephants, giraffes, leopards, lions, and ostriches), if they find them. The meat of some animals is eaten; skins, ivory, feathers, tail hair, and so forth formerly were sold to highland dealers. Berries and fruits are gathered. In the gardens, the women cultivate cabbages, peppers, pumpkins, cassava, and gourds.

Marriage. Marriages are possible across keno (clan) lines only. This stricture is carefully observed, although sexual liaisons between members of nominally the same clan do occur. Marriages are usually arranged after the rainy-season dueling contests have ended. At that time, a girl, having watched the contests and selected her favorite duelist, tries to approach the chosen one by indirect messages sent through friends and relatives. In traffic between the two families, the possibility for a marriage alliance is tested. Decisive are, first, the preference of the girl and, second, the amount of bride-wealth (in cattle, small stock, and/or bullets and a rifle) to be paid by the groom’s family. After negotiations start, it may take months before agreement is reached. When a deal is clinched, the real wedding ceremony is organized, with beer (called “Borde”), song and dance, and the ritual entrance of the girl into the new hut and into the family of the groom. Among the Suri, a marriage implies a multi-stranded alliance between two kin groups. Divorce is rare.

 Socialization. The Suri push their children—both boys and girls—to be independent and assertive: this is very evident from the games young children play. There is no physical punishment, such as beating or pinching, but much verbal discussion, encouragement, and reprimanding. Children of both sexes learn their respective gender activities by following their parents, older relatives, and peers. From the ages of 6 to 7, children start collective activities (play, gathering of fruits, some herding, drawing water, fetching firewood, grinding) in groups of their own sex. Adolescent males organize ceremonial stick-dueling fights, which are big, all-Suri events. Participation is a must for all maturing males. Suri elders form an age set that the younger people respect. In the domestic sphere, parents are much respected by their children. There is virtually no intergenerational violence, as there is among the Me’en, a closely related Surmic people. Now, government is trying to school the Suri tribes’ children with free of charge. They are not yet exposed too much interethnic or out-group social contact. They develop a strong group consciousness and pride, which often results in disdain of all non-Suri groups.

Surma stick fighting and Surma Woman with lip Plug culture

Piercing and lip plates are a strong part of the Suri culture. At the point of puberty most women have their bottom teeth removed in order to get their lower lip pierced. Once the lip is pierced, it is then stretched and a lip plate is then placed in the hole of the piercing. Having a lip plate is a sign of beauty and the bigger the plate, the more cattle the woman is worth. This is important when the women are ready to get married. It is still unknown why and how lip plates came to be used. One theory says lips plates were used to discourage slave owners from taking the women who had them.

Stick fighting. In most cases, stick fighting is done so young men can find wives. It is a way for young men to prove themselves to the young women. To the Suri, the ideal time to stick fight is just after it rains. The fights are held between Suri villages, and the fights begin with 20 to 30 people on each side. Of these 20 to 30 people, all get a chance to fight one on one against someone from the other side. During these fights there are referees present to make sure all rules are being followed. Many stick fights end within the first couple of hits.

 Karo Tribes

Karo (also Cherre, Kere, Kerre) is an Omotic language spoken in the   South Omo River  of Ethiopia. Karo is described as being closely related to its neighbors, Hamer and Banna, with a lexical similarity of 81%, and is considered a dialect of Hamer. The Karo tribes living along with the borders of the Lower Omo River incorporate rich, cultural symbolism into their rituals by using ornate body art, intricate headdresses, and body scarification to express beauty and significance within their community.

Many of their traditional rituals might have originated with another much larger tribe, the Hamar. These two groups speak nearly identical; Omotic languages and much of the symbolism found in both groups’ ceremonies suggest a rich, cultural history together. The Karo people differentiate themselves from many of the neighboring tribes by excelling specifically in body and face painting. They paint themselves daily with colored ocher, white chalk, yellow mineral rock, charcoal, and pulverized iron ore, all natural resources, gathered from the area.

The specific designs drawn on their bodies can change daily and vary in content, ranging from simple stars or lines to animal motifs, such as guinea fowl plumage, or to the most popular – a myriad of handprints covering the torso and legs. Both the Karo and the Hamar men use clay to construct elaborate hairstyles and headdresses for themselves, signifying status, beauty, and bravery. The Karo male hairstyle is very elaborate. A part is made from one ear to the other.

The front portion is made into braids, which frame the forehead. The rest of the hair is drawn back into a thick chignon and held firmly by a colorful cap of glazed earth. Sometimes pieces of bark are glued onto the cap and holes are made in the bark to attach ostrich feathers. Or, it is painted in red, white and black…three colors of mystical and legendary significance. A man wearing a grey and red-ochre clay hair bun with an Ostrich feather indicates that he has bravely killed an enemy from another tribe or a dangerous animal, such as a lion or a leopard. This clay hair bun often takes up to three days to construct. It is usually remade every three to six months, and can be worn for a period of up to one year after the kill.

Large beads worn around the neck of a man also signify a big game kill. The Karo men cover their body and face with ashes mixed with fat, a symbol of virility for important festivities and the ritual combats between the clans, which take place after the harvest. (Cinders also protect them from mosquitoes and tsetse fly). These ceremonial combats are of great importance because they enable the men to exhibit their beauty and courage and thus, perhaps to attract a woman. The scars and lacerations, particularly those on the chest, are highly esteemed marks of valor.

Karo women usually wear only a skin loincloth, decorated with beads and cowries. Their hair is greased with red clay and cut into a short skullcap. The Karo’s artistic practices in their daily lives are for self-pleasure and pride, respect and symbolic recognition within their society, and as a means of attracting the opposite sex during rituals. Courtship dances are frequently held and oftentimes the outcome of these frenzied, impassioned dances results in future marriages. Specific rituals occur regularly within the tribal communities, and sometimes neighboring villagers will travel all night to witness these rites of passages and participate in the celebrations. Body scarification conveys either significant symbolism or aesthetic beauty, depending upon the sex of the individual. The scarification of the man’s chest indicates that he has killed enemies from other tribes, and he is highly respected within his community. The Karo women are considered particularly sensual and attractive if cuts are made deep into their chests and torsos and ash is rubbed in, creating a raised effect over time and thereby enhancing sexual beauty.

The Karo, like the Hamar, perform the Bula or Pilla initiation rite, which signifies the coming of age for young men. The initiate must demonstrate that he is ready to “become a man” by leaping over rows of cattle six times consecutively without falling. If successful, the boy will become eligible for marriage (as long as his older brothers are already married) and he will be allowed to appear publicly with the elders in sacred areas.

Visit Hamar Tribes

The Hamar (also spelled Hamer) are an Omotic community inhabiting southwestern Ethiopia. They live in “Hamer woreda” (or district), a fertile part of the Omo River valley. They are largely pastoralists, so their culture places a high value on cattle. They are a tribe with unique rituals such as a cattle-leaping ceremony that men go through in order to reach adulthood, whereupon young Hamar women get whipped to prove their love for their kinsmen.

Hamar men and women

Hamar parents have a lot of control over their sons, who herd the cattle and goats for the family. It’s the parents who give permission for the men to marry, and many don’t get married until their mid-thirties. Girls, on the other hand, tend to marry at about 17.

Marriage requires ‘bride wealth’, a payment made to the woman’s family and generally made up of goats, cattle and guns.

 If a man can afford the bride wealth, he can have three or four wives. Women only marry one man.

Hamar cattle-leaping and whipping

A Hamar man comes of age by leaping over a line of cattle. It’s the ceremony which qualifies him to marry, own cattle and have children. The timing of the ceremony is up to the man’s parents and happens after harvest. As an invitation, the guests receive a strip of bark with a number of knots – one to cut off for each day that passes in the run up to the ceremony. They have several days of feasting and drinking sorghum beer in prospect.

On the afternoon of the leap, the man’s female relatives demand to be whipped as part of the ceremony. The girls go out to meet the Maza, the ones who will whip them – a group of men who have already leapt across the cattle, and live apart from the rest of the tribe, moving from ceremony to ceremony. The whipping appears to be consensual; the girls gather round and beg to be whipped on their backs. They don’t show the pain they must feel and they say they’re proud of the scars. They would look down on a woman who refuses to join in, but young girls are discouraged from getting whipped.

One effect of this ritual whipping is to create a strong debt between the young man and his sisters. If they face hard times in the future, he’ll remember them because of the pain they went through at his initiation. Her scars are a mark of how she suffered for her brother.

As for the young man leaping over the cattle, before the ceremony his head is partially shaved, he is rubbed with sand to wash away his sins, and smeared with dung to give him strength. Finally, strips of tree bark are strapped round his body in a cross, as a form of spiritual protection.

Meanwhile, the Maza and elders line up about 15 cows and castrated male cattle, which represent the women and children of the tribe. The cattle in turn are smeared with dung to make them slippery. To come of age, the man must leap across the line many times. If he falls it is a shame, but he can try again. If he is blind or lame he will be helped across the cattle by others. Only when he has been through this initiation rite can he marry the wife chosen for him by his parents, and start to build up his own herd. Once his marriage has been agreed upon he and his family are indebted to his wife’s family for marriage payments in  goats and cattle.

At the end of the leap, he is blessed and sent off with the Maza who shave his head and make him one of their number. His kinsmen and neighbors decamp for a huge dance. It’s also a chance for large-scale flirting. The girls get to choose who they want to dance with and indicate their chosen partner by kicking him on the leg.

It doesn’t stop there. Wife beating is an accepted part of life rather than a taboo, and the convention is that a man will not generally tell his wife why she is being whipped. On the other hand, if a beating is severe then family or neighbors will step in; and after a couple have had two or three children, beating stops.

Today (2014), the road network and local towns are expanding in this part of the Omo Valley. Some Hamar people are moving to town, going to school, forgetting traditions and choosing not to join in whipping rituals. For others, towns are a place to sell surplus produce, and buy goods from outside.

For the last 10 years, tourists have been visiting the Hamar to watch the cattle-leaping ceremonies. The Hamar appear to be confident in the survival of their traditions. Despite increasing contact with town-dwellers, they continue to marry only from within the tribe and scorn those who refuse to take part in tribal ceremonies. Of more concern to them are the tourists who refuse to pay for the privilege of taking photographs.

Some believe this contact will change Hamar society by undermining their cultural values. Others say it is one way that they can be preserved, as the money from tourists helps to pay for the cattle-leaping ceremonies, and the tourists’ attention gives the Hamar pride in their customs.  Action Tours recommends to visit the South Omo Tribes soon before their original culture may vanish or amended by modern lifestyle by education and social exchange.

Dassanech Tribes

Dassanech Society

Within the village, it’s the women who build and take down the huts during migrations. They are semi-circular constructions with no interior divisions, made up of sticks and branches called “Miede”. The first part of the hut to be constructed is the ‘store’ – actually a small box-like structure made from reeds and rope from cow skin. This also the box used for moving items on the donkey back. It is set by one side of the hut and used for storing tobacco, coffee and other important items.

These huts are well ventilated, as it is important to have airflow through in such a hot environment. There is only one entrance, a small opening that is closed by animal skin – that way it is extremely difficult for an enemy to go through the opening un-noticed. Inside the huts are a hearth, an area where animal skins are laid for sleeping on, and the store. Women also claim the right-hand side of the hut (and of the porch outside) as their own.

Dassanech Culture

The Dassanech tribe is not strictly defined by ethnicity. Anyone – man or woman – will be admitted, as long as they agree to be circumcised. Over the centuries, the tribe has absorbed a wide range of different peoples. It’s now divided into eight main clans, which to some extent reflect the wide-ranging origin of its members. Each clan has its own identity and customs, its own responsibilities towards the rest of the tribe, and is linked to a particular territory.

The largest clan is the Galbur, or Water and Crocodile clan. The Dassanech believe its members have the power over both water and crocodiles and are responsible for dealing with diseases of the glands across the tribe. The Turat clan is responsible for dealing with burns from the fire. They have powers to keep away snakes and to cure many diseases, and also have the ability to keep away enemies from their animals. Another important clan is Turnyerim, which has powers over drought. They pray for rains during dry periods and they can also cure snakebites by spitting on the wound.

Other clans claim to have healing powers over eye infections, scorpion bites, muscular problems, and so on. Members of the same clan are forbidden from marrying – or indeed dancing – with each other.

The biggest ceremony in a man’s life of Dassenech tribe is called Dimi. Its purpose is to celebrate and bless his daughter for fertility and future marriage. When he has gone through Dimi, a man becomes an elder. About 10 cattle and 30 smaller animals are slaughtered and other stock is traded for coffee. Men and women dress in animal fur capes to feast and dance, and the leaders of the village bless the girl.

Dimi ceremonies, with their need to slaughter cattle, take place in the dry season – when cattle aren’t producing much milk, and grazing has limited value. Slaughtering cattle at this time of year provides meat when other food sources are low.

Bodi or Me’en Tribe

The Bodi or Me’en people, living in a remote corner of Ethiopia’s Omo Valley, southern Ethiopia, known as “The Omo Valley”.  South of the Bodi are the Mursi tribes, in Mago National park. Along the banks of the river, they grow sorghum, maize and coffee.  They live with their cattle herds and livestock that play a large role in the tribe.

The Bodi celebrate an unusual ritual called Ka’el, the tradition that measures the body fattening competition. Each family or clan is allowed to enter an unmarried contestant. They spend about six months guzzling a mixture of blood and milk in a bid to fatten up as fast as they can. Men from the Bodi tribe compete to become the fattest during the New Year or Ka’el ceremony, between June and July.The winning fat man doesn’t get a prize but is feted as a hero for life by the rest of the tribe.  Being slim might be in elsewhere but for Ethiopia’s Bodi or Me’en people, bigger is always better and being hero.

Every child of Bodi tribe wants to become one of the fattest men, considered as a hero. On the day of the Ka’el ceremony, the tribe’s fat men walk for hours around a sacred tree, watched by other men and helped out by the women. The challenging feat begins about six months before the Ka’el ceremony. Each competitor is nominated by his family who then spend the next six months helping him to fatten up on a diet of cow’s blood and milk all day long. The first bowl of blood is drunk at sunrise. The man must drink it quickly before it coagulates. On the day itself, the men cover their bodies with clay and ashes before emerging from their huts for the walk to the spot where the ceremony will take place. The dress code for the ceremony also includes a selection of beautifully worked headdresses, made from cowries’ shells and ostrich plumes. Once the men are ready to go, they walk to the sacred tree where the ceremony takes place. During the walk and the ceremony that follows, the Bodi women are on hand to help out the fat men with drinks of water and fortifying alcohol.

Once the fattest man has been chosen, the ceremony ends with the slaughter of a cow using a huge sacred stone. After the dance, the bodies of the contestants will be inspected by the Bodi Village elders. The fattest person is then declared as the winner of the competition and is honored with great fame.

Women use the Ka’el ceremony opportunity to inspect potential future husbands – in the Bodi tribe, fat is considered extremely attractive.

After the ceremony, the men’s lives return to normal and most lose their enormous bellies after a few weeks of eating sparingly. But a few times later, the next generation of competitively fat Bodi men will be chosen and the cycle will begin again.