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The Tsemay tribe

The Tsemay tribe

Also known as Tsemako, the Tsemay belong to the broad Afro-Asiatic linguistic group and in particular to the lowland east Cushitic family in which the Dassanatch and the Arbore are also part.

The total number of the Tsemay does not exceed 10,000 people. Their neighbors include the Konso to the east, the Banna - Bashada group to the west, the Male to the north, and the Arbore to the south. 

They occupy the semi-arid region of the Weyto valley, which is found west of the Weyto River. Here, the Tsemay live as agro - pastoralist. The banks of the Weyto River are particularly suitable for crop cultivation and other plantations like cotton. However, the Tsemay mainly grow sorghum and millet.

The Tsemay society, unlike most other people in rural Ethiopia, does not have a custom, which emphasizes on the availability of girls virginity until their official day of marriage. In other words, a Tsemay girl, if she wishes to, can have a sexual partner with whom she can engage in premarital relations. However, Tsemay culture strictly prohibits the girls from bearing a child out of this relation. 

Thus, in the Tsemay culture, the freedom to have a pre-marital sexual partner, does not necessarily guarantee the freedom to bear child, which in turn necessitates marriage.

In the Tsemay land, marriage can be arranged with or without the will of the girl. Yet regardless of the consent of their daughter, her parents always take the binding decision of the matter.

Once her parents gave their approval, the bridegroom's parents are responsible for the preparation of the wedding feast. 

Tsemay bride's hands are not given to her husband. Instead, she is handed over to her parents -in-law. This takes place at the time when the bridal group is summoned to the party. According to the culture, until he is required to join the party, the bridegroom must not appear in the occasion. 

During the wedding feast, the bride and the bridegroom shave and put butter on their heads. From this day on, the new couple is freed from any sort of obligation or work for the next six to twelve months.

Excepting their honeymoon time, Tsemay couples do not eat together at home from the same plate for the whole of their life. 

Similar to other Omo valley people, the Tsemay are polygamous society, which follows the paternal line. They have regulations, which prohibit marriages between very closely related individuals. Traditionally inter marriage with the Benna is allowed. However, the union is always one directional. Thus, if there is any conjugal union between Tsemay and Banna people, it is always the case that a Tsemay woman marrying a Benna man, never the other way around. 

The traditional costume of the Tsemay women involves a leather outfit. While married women's leather apron is wide and can cover both sides of the legs, that of the unmarried is a short skirt with a long v-shaped leather apron which is only enough to cover the backs of the legs. 

Although the major marriage payment comes in the form of livestock, other items such as honey, grain, clothes, coffee beans, bullets and 'arake' are also accepted. In order to get the hands of a girl, a Tsemay man must prepare all or most of the above items in abundance. Nevertheless, collecting this bride wealth is so hard for the suitor that he is usually helped by his closest kinsmen. In this respect, the contribution of his father and his uncle(s) is immense. In the final analysis, it is her parents, not the bride, who are the real beneficiaries of this bride wealth. The justification given for this is that it is a return for all possible investments made in her upbringing. In addition, the bride wealth compensates for the loss of her labor and potential for reproduction.

Also known as Tsemako, the Tsemay belong to the broad Afro-Asiatic linguistic group and in particular to the lowland east Cushitic family in which the Dassanatch and the Arbore are also part.

The total number of the Tsemay does not exceed 10,000 people. Their neighbors include the Konso to the east, the Banna - Bashada group to the west, the Male to the north, and the Arbore to the south. 

They occupy the semi-arid region of the Weyto valley, which is found west of the Weyto River. Here, the Tsemay live as agro - pastoralist. The banks of the Weyto River are particularly suitable for crop cultivation and other plantations like cotton. However, the Tsemay mainly grow sorghum and millet.

The Tsemay society, unlike most other people in rural Ethiopia, does not have a custom, which emphasizes on the availability of girls virginity until their official day of marriage. In other words, a Tsemay girl, if she wishes to, can have a sexual partner with whom she can engage in premarital relations. However, Tsemay culture strictly prohibits the girls from bearing a child out of this relation. 

Thus, in the Tsemay culture, the freedom to have a pre-marital sexual partner, does not necessarily guarantee the freedom to bear child, which in turn necessitates marriage.

In the Tsemay land, marriage can be arranged with or without the will of the girl. Yet regardless of the consent of their daughter, her parents always take the binding decision of the matter.

Once her parents gave their approval, the bridegroom's parents are responsible for the preparation of the wedding feast. 

Tsemay bride's hands are not given to her husband. Instead, she is handed over to her parents -in-law. This takes place at the time when the bridal group is summoned to the party. According to the culture, until he is required to join the party, the bridegroom must not appear in the occasion. 

During the wedding feast, the bride and the bridegroom shave and put butter on their heads. From this day on, the new couple is freed from any sort of obligation or work for the next six to twelve months.

Excepting their honeymoon time, Tsemay couples do not eat together at home from the same plate for the whole of their life. 

Similar to other Omo valley people, the Tsemay are polygamous society, which follows the paternal line. They have regulations, which prohibit marriages between very closely related individuals. Traditionally inter marriage with the Benna is allowed. However, the union is always one directional. Thus, if there is any conjugal union between Tsemay and Banna people, it is always the case that a Tsemay woman marrying a Benna man, never the other way around. 

The traditional costume of the Tsemay women involves a leather outfit. While married women's leather apron is wide and can cover both sides of the legs, that of the unmarried is a short skirt with a long v-shaped leather apron which is only enough to cover the backs of the legs. 

Although the major marriage payment comes in the form of livestock, other items such as honey, grain, clothes, coffee beans, bullets and 'arake' are also accepted. In order to get the hands of a girl, a Tsemay man must prepare all or most of the above items in abundance. Nevertheless, collecting this bride wealth is so hard for the suitor that he is usually helped by his closest kinsmen. In this respect, the contribution of his father and his uncle(s) is immense. In the final analysis, it is her parents, not the bride, who are the real beneficiaries of this bride wealth. The justification given for this is that it is a return for all possible investments made in her upbringing. In addition, the bride wealth compensates for the loss of her labor and potential for reproduction.

 

THE SURMA/SURI tribe

THE SURMA/SURI tribe

Though invariably referred to by other Ethiopians as nomads the Surma along with all the other “nomads” of the region are no longer nomadic in the true sense of the word. They may once have been when people were far fewer and competition for grazing much less but nowadays they live a mostly settled life depending on cultivated grains (sorghum and maize) for the greater part of their subsistence. But their ideal is to herd cattle and this image of themselves as nomadic pastoralists persists in folklore.

 

The Surma, like the Mursi, are well known for their stick fighting. At a fight, each contestant is armed with a hardwood pole about six feet long with a weight of just under two pounds. In the attacking position, this pole is gripped at its base with both hands, the left above the right in order to give maximum swing and leverage. Each player beats his opponent with his stick as many times as possible with the intention of knocking him down, and eliminating him from the game. Players are usually unmarried men. The winner is carried away on a platform of poles to a group of girls waiting at the side of the arena who decide among themselves which of them will ask for his hand in marriage. Taking part in a stick fight is considered to be more important than winning it. The men paint their bodies with a mixture of chalk and water before the fight.

 

Surma women, like Mursi women, wear lip plates. In her early twenties an unmarried woman’s lower lip will be pierced and then progressively stretched over the period of a year. A clay disc indented like a pulley wheel is squeezed into the hole in the lip. As it stretches ever-larger discs are forced in until the lip, now a loop, is so long it can sometimes be pulled right over the owner’s head. The size of the lip plate determines the bride price with a large one bringing in fifty head of cattle. The women make the lip plates from clay, colour them with ochre and charcoal and bake them in a fire. 

 

Suri life

Suri villages range between 40 and 2,500 people. Village decisions are made by an assembly of the men, though women make their views known in advance of the debates. Village discussions are led by elders and the komoru - a ritual chief. The korumus all come from the same clan and are chosen by consensus. 

Each household is run by a woman. The women have their own fields and dispose of the proceeds as they wish. Money they make from selling beer and grain can be used to buy goats, which they then trade for cattle. 

The men of the village are divided by 'age-set': children, young men (tegay), junior elders (rora) and senior elders (bara). Each set has its role. Children start helping with the cattle when they're about eight years old. The tegay age-set are unmarried and not yet known as warriors. They do the herding and earn the right to become young elders by their stick fighting and care of the cattle. Initiation ceremonies for those moving into the next age-set only happen every 20 or 30 years. The initiation ritual for the group becoming rora is particularly violent; the candidates are insulted by the elders, given menial tasks, starved and sometimes even whipped until they bleed.

Cattle are enormously important to the Suri. They bring status; when two Suri meet they'll ask each other how many cows they have. Cows are a store of wealth to be traded, and a source of milk and blood. Bleeding a cow is more efficient than slaughtering it for meat, and blood can be drawn during the dry season when there's less milk. An animal can be bled once a month, from the jugular.

The animals aren't generally sold or killed for meat, though they are slaughtered for certain ceremonies. They are treated with reverence. Fires are lit to keep them warm and to protect against insect bites, they are covered with ash. Every boy is given a young bull to look after, and his friends call him the name of his bull. The Suri sing songs in praise of their cattle, and mourn them when they die.

The average man owns between 30 and 40 cows. In order to marry, he needs about 60 cows to give to his wife's family. Suri men will fight to the death to protect their herd, and some risk their lives to steal from other tribes.

As well as cattle, the Suri trade. In the 1980s they smuggled automatic weapons from Sudan.

These days, the Suri are used to tourists visiting their villages but they have a very low opinion of their behaviour. It's offensive, for instance, that people take pictures without asking permission and the Suri insist on being paid a fee. 'They must be people who don't know how to behave,' one Suri told an anthropologist. 'Do they want us to be their children, or what? This photography business comes from your country. Give us a car and we'll go and take pictures of you.'

The Suri have some extremely painful rituals, including lip plates, scarification and dangerous stickfighting. Some anthropologists see these as a kind of controlled violence to get young Suris used to feeling pain and seeing blood. These are, after all, people who live in a volatile, hostile world, under constant threat from their enemies around them.

No one knows why lip plates were first used. One theory goes that it was meant to discourage slavers from taking the women. It's undoubtedly painful. Once a girl reaches a certain age, her lower incisors are knocked out and her bottom lip is pierced and stretched until it can hold the clay plate.

'We get a stick and make a hole', explains Nabala, the wife of Bruce's host. 'Then we gradually make the hole bigger.... My lip was cut a long time ago. My brothers and father made me get it done. Without a lip plate I wouldn't get married, and they'd get no cattle. My lip is big, Dongaley's is smaller. My lip plate is worth 60 cattle. Hers is worth 40.' A few girls are beginning to refuse to have a lip plate.

As well as lip plates, the girls of the village mark their bodies permanently by scarification. The skin is lifted with a thorn then sliced with a razor blade, leaving a flap of skin which will eventually scar. The men, meanwhile, scar their bodies to show they've killed someone from an enemy tribe. There are particular meanings assigned to these scars. One group, for instance, cuts a horseshoe shape on their right arm to indicate they've killed a man, and on their left if for a woman.

When it comes to religious beliefs, the Suri have a sky god, Tuma, an abstract divine force. There is no real veneration of the earth or earth spirits.

 Suri stick fighting

Stick fighting is part martial art, part ritual, part sport. It's seriously dangerous. 'If you get hit in the stomach it can kill you,' says Bargalu, Bruce's host. That's not to mention the danger if someone in the crowd decides to use their gun. 

The fights take place between Suri villages, and everyone turns out to watch. The busiest time is just after the rains, when food is plentiful and there's enough time and energy for fighting. There are something like 20 or 30 fighters on each side, who take turns to fight one-to-one. Most bouts - or donga - end in a draw after only a few blows have been exchanged. There are referees to enforce the rules - for instance, that you must never hit anyone on the ground. 

Traditionally the stick fights were a place where young men could prove themselves to the girls and find a wife. But they're more than just a meeting place. Dongas get young men used to the bloodshed they'll face from the Nyangatom and other tribes, and provide the schooling a young man needs to fight for his tribe's survival. 

These days, guns are eroding the traditional controls. In the volatile atmostphere of the stickfight, shooting can easily break out. As one Suri woman puts it: 'When our fathers were stick fighting no one went around shooting like this... Now all these young men they just pick up their guns. Bang! They'll kill us all.'

Suri conflict

The dozen or so tribal groups in this part of southern Ethiopia are locked in mutual hostility. Fuelled by a steady supply of semi automatic weapons, the violence only gets worse. 

Cattle raiding is a part of Suri life. Their herds are under constant threat, and they in turn regularly run raids on their enemies. Gazing land is under intense competition, particularly since the Sudan war pushed neighbouring tribes on to Suri lands. Gun battles rage during the dry season when the Suri move their herds south and fight for the pastures they need.

The Suri's traditional enemies are the Nyangatom who, ten years ago, drove them from some of their traditional lands in a bloody conflict that has led to many deaths. Other enemies include the 70,000 Toposa, who live along the border with Sudan and often team up with the Nyangatom to raid Suri cattle and drive them off contested pastures.

Though hundreds of people have died in the conflicts in the region, the state authorities rarely provide any kind of formal justice. It's a measure of how widespread weapons are that these days, an AK-47 is often part of the 'bride price' a man gives his new wife's family.

 

THE NYANGATOM TRIBE

THE NYANGATOM TRIBE

Also known as Bume, the Nyangatom belong to the Nilo-Saharan linguistic group. They live throughout the eastern part of the Lower Omo Valley and the Kibish Basin, even into Sudan. Closely related to the Topossa people of Sudan, they shun conflict with these neighbours. Both peoples seem to have a common origin-northeast Uganda. Pressure from the Turkana may have displaced the Topossa to the southeast Sudan and the Nyangatom towards Kibish. Part of the Nyangatom established themselves on the bank of the Omo River and abandoned their livestock due to problems with the tsetse fly. They formed a stationary nucleus, subsisting mainly on agriculture and some fishing. The larger group remained in the west, and continued in traditional semi-nomadic herding.

 

There are two groups within the Nyangatom: the western group around the Kibish Basin where herding and some agriculture are combined, and the eastern group around the banks of the Omo, with permanent settlements dedicated to agriculture (sorghum and corn). Weekly markets enable the flow of goods between the Nyangatom and their neighbours in times of peace.

 

The Nyangatom have grown in numbers to about 7,000 individuals. Their attempts at expansion in the last few years have caused continual confrontations with their traditional enemies, the Mursi, the Surma, the Karo, and the Dassanetch. Their proximity to Southern Sudan has made it easy for them to acquire arms, and since the 1970s, confrontations have claimed a large number of victims. The government has intervened to re-establish peace in the area, but demographic pressure and terrible existence.

 

Ornamentation of the women is designed not only for beauty, but also to assert the woman’s social status. The number, colour, declaration. In addition, both men and women have labial piercing with different metal, wood, or ivory decorations. Men sometimes wear sharp metal rings and bracelets as personal defensive weapons. One bracelet is particularly intimidating- it is a disc shape with filed edges.

As in all the other tribes of Ethiopia, from the appearance of a Nyangatom woman, one can learn a lot about her social status, her place in the society. Look at the girl…the Nyangatom tribe women wear a lot of different beads on their necks, which they never ever take off. As a young girl, she gets her first strand of beads as a gift from her father and for all the years of her life she adds more and more. Sometimes you can see a woman who wears up to 6-8Kg of beads.

Married and unmarried woman: their skirts will give you much more accurate and truthful answer. The Skirt of unmarried women is made of goat skin, will be cleaned of lint, and it will always be embroidered with the bright beads. Married women’s skirt is always less bright, and not embroidered with multicolored beads. And, accordingly, the number of the bead threads on her neck is higher. 

 

 

Continuous confrontations with their neighbous explain why Nyangatom men have so many scars. One ceremony honours the courageous warriors with a sacrifice of goats, and the infliction of scars on their shoulders, chest, and backs.

 

THE MURSI TRIBE

THE MURSI TRIBE

Pertaining to the Nilo-Saharan linguistic group (subgroup East-Sudanic), the Mursi are pastoralists and cultivators. The large Surma group consists of the Mursi (about 4,000 individuals), the Chai (about 11,000 individuals) and the Tirma (about 9,000 individuals), who are strongly related to the Meen (Bodi) and Murle, as well as a very little known group, the Bale. In the 1960s, an outbreak of anthrax destroyed a large part of the livestock of the Surmic groups. They have since pursued agriculture, although their culture is still connected to the keeping of livestock.

 

Mursi people moved east from the original Surmic nucleus and occupied the land between the Omo River and its tributary, the Mago River. The conflicts they have with the Meen (Bodi) people in the north, and the Nyangatom in the south, have resulted in violent confrontations in the last decade, aggravated by the use of automatic weapons. These armed conflicts have been responsible for a decrease in their population.

 

Though they are dedicated to grazing livestock, Mursi people have had to supplement food sources by cultivating sorghum and corn, and keeping bees. Hunting was once an important resource as the Mursi, along with the Kwegu, were the suppliers of wild animal skins for other groups. But this ceased when the region around the Mago River was declared a national park and wildlife reserve. The Kwegu also belong to the Surmic family and have a friendly relationship with their neighbours, the Mursi (north) and the Karo (south). The two dominant groups use Kwegu boatmen because they are experts in crossing the dangerous Omo River with livestock. They are also superior hunters.

 

Generally, all the Surmic groups have a decentralized clan structure which regulates conjugal unions. It is based on the age-system and has an egalitarian political structure. There are no “chiefs.” The eldest age-group holds the power and there are only leaders of rituals. The Mursi are divided into five segments, or horizontal territorial sections, between the Omo and the Mago Rivers. One sits below the other in such a way that each segment has three natural environments from which comprise their territorial segment.

 

The distinctive trait of the Mursi, shared by other Surmic groups, is the labial and lobular plates worn by the women. A small incision is made in the lower lip and ear lobes of a young Mursi girl during initiation rituals. A small wooden or ceramic disc is inserted into the incision and gradually replaced by larger ones until the full sized disc can be worn. Not all of the women have the labial or lobular discs.

 

It was said that this practice was first carried out to make them look ugly when Arab merchants continually raided their villages in search of slaves. That explanation has been rejected as studies reveal that the plates are a symbol or expression of social status. The women remove their plates on certain occasions but never when Mursi men are around. The plates are made from mud (reddish or black) or wood. There are different sizes and shapes (circular and trapezoidal), and they may be decorated with cuts or incisions on the wood or mud. Sometimes the centre is hollow, forming a large labial ring.

 

The men display their bodies, naked except for the panting of part or all of the skin white. Living in hostile areas and being pressured by neighboring groups, these men proudly show off their scars as proof of their courage, strength, and aggressiveness. From a young age, these values are instilled in them. Once of their most significant ceremonies (tagine or sagine) is a duel between single young men from different territories. At a certain age, they must face each other with long wooden clubs (donga) whose ends have a phallic form. During the fight, they protect their most vulnerable parts with coarse cotton cloths. The ceremony takes place every year after the harvests (November-January). All the Surmic groups participate in this ritual as another step up the social ladder for their young men. The fight is symbolic; the adversary is killed, there are serious reprisals for the young man and his family.

 

Simply participating in the fight, win or lose, is enough for the young man to receive recognition for his bravery and to prove he is prepared for marriage. The fights are a way to publicly display one’s personal qualities, and an attempt to conform to the tenets expected of Surma age-group behavior. They also promote a sense of community among Surma people from different geographical locations.

 

THE KONSO tribe

THE KONSO tribe

The 350,000 members of the Konso nation live in Central Ethiopia, south of Lake Chamo in the Rift Valley. Their 'capital' is Konso city, also known as Bakuele.  

They are farmers, living in fortified villages surrounded by their farming land. Although not really under direct threat in the past, safety comes first, so the Konso developed a defensive style of building, with villages on hilltops, protected by fortifications around them. One enters through a gate and then finds one self in a labyrinth of narrow curvy alleys, little squares, and small flower gardens with high fences. Often they grow their crops (sunflowers, fruits, grains, cotton, sorghum, and corn) on terraces, thus using every bit of land possible. They are also renowned bee-keepers; the bees produce acacia honey, which is also exported to Europe. The Konso are a resourceful, efficient, charming, careful, and hard-working people and it is ironic that they suffered severe losses in the days of famine in the 1990s.

Their societal structure is clan-based; the whole person consists of nine clans (gada) with an average size of 7,000 members. The clans' organization is based on exogamy and patrilinearity. The clan leader wears the title pokwalla. 

They are famous for their wooden anthropomorph statuettes, erected in honor of important - deceased - people. In the Konso language these statuettes are called Waga. The Wagas are always placed in groups, with the main figure in the center, surrounded by people and animals that were important to him during his lifetime. Another exclusive art form is the use of the kalasha: large fallus symbols in wood (or nowadays aluminium), which are worn on the forehead during special events. It is only logical that one also finds wagas with kalasha. Most common sculpting material is gayo wood. The Konso's neighbors, the Gato tribe, has the same traditions and are often seen as a Konso tribe, which is why they are called the Konso-Gato. 

Konso: A Culture of Rock and Stone


Villages

Perched on a narrow range of highland mountains ranging from 5,000 to 6,000 feet, live a group of people called Konso. Their homeland, located south of the town of Arba Minch, is surrounded by the lands of the Borana, Burji and Gaudwada peoples. While they have common origins with these tribes and to the Oromo people in general, the Konso's culture has evolved in a high degree of isolation that is especially apparent in the outward appearance of their villages and fields.

When approaching the Konso homeland, a visitor first notices the red soil, which is littered with rocks, mainly basalt. The rocks form the foundation of both their villages and farmland. Rock walls surround their densely populated villages, often 10-15 feet high and 7-8 feet thick. Inside is a maze of narrow trails, built up with stones, winding through small individual compounds on either side.

Each married man has his own compound comprised of at least three huts. The area is divided into an upper level where the family lives and the lower level where the livestock are kept. The stone walls of the huts are topped by thatched beehive-shaped roofs. Entry into the sleeping huts is through a low arched doorway, about 3 feet high, which gives way to a short wooden tunnel. The point of this restricted entry is for defense: an enemy crawling through would not be able to use his weapon and the occupants could easily club or spear him. The compound is secured by a high fence of wooden palings which are sometimes reinforced by planting small trees. The trees, rocks and wood pilings create an impression of walking through a buttressed shady grove.

The narrow lanes converge on open places called moras, which are encircled by trees growing on low stone platforms. A large village will have several moras. These seem to be the center of village life, at least for the men: dances, assemblies, religious ceremonies and courts of law are held there. Women are excluded from the most important rites although they may attend others as spectators and may take part in dances.

Adjoining the open areas are striking buildings (also called moras) with open-sided walls and steep, thatched roofs supported by juniper trunks. Groups of men and older boys are required to sleep there so they will be ready for fires (a major threat) or enemy attacks (very unlikely today). There is a third reason men sleep there: They believe women weaken them, draining their vitality by sexual intercourse, so they sometimes spend the night in the special houses to preserve their virility.

One is impressed by the cleanliness walking through a Konso village. Latrines are on the outskirts of the towns and animal dung is removed to fertilize the fields. Work parties repair the narrow walkways and remove trash and weeds from the common areas in the village. (This is at least true in villages open to tourists. In others, the care of public places may not always be enforced.)

 

Konso: A Culture of Rock and Stone


Fields

The Konso villages are a flowing composition of rock walls and wood. In contrast, the fields are stepping stones of rock walls and red soil climbing the steep hillsides. The terraces, with walls up to five feet high and twice as thick at the base, serve two purposes. They catch the rain that comes only twice a year, during the big rains around February and the small rains in the beginning of October. The rain can, however, be delivered in torrential downpours, so the terracing also keeps the soil and the crops from washing away. The rain is so critical to their very existence that when it rains they solemnly announce, "God is raining."

Although the soil is rocky and infertile, the Konso enrich it with both animal and human waste, which is diligently collected and dried before being tilled into the soil. The principal crop is millet, of which many different varieties are grown. Other crops, some introduced, include maize, beans, wheat and yams. Cash crops are coffee and cotton. Their "drought" food is a tuber that can survive with little moisture. It is dried and pounded into flour and then mixed with millet or other grains for food and beer.

The fields are owned individually; both the men and women in the family work together to prepare the soil and to plant, weed and harvest the crops. When the crops begin to mature, the young men and women guard the fields during the day agains the onslaught of birds, using slingshots to hurl stones at them and their voices to hurl nasty words. At night the older men sleep in the fields in temporary shelters, banging on pots and yelling at intervals to drive off creatures that could ravage a crop in a few nights.

Most families own some cows, sheep and goats, which are corralled in their compound to make it easier to collect the manure for the fields. In the mornings, they are herded to the village gates where boys are assigned to lead them to the grazing lands for the day. The Konso, at least at one time, were not big meat eaters because the animals were too valuable for their manure and for milk used to make butter, a prized delicacy.

Honey is also considered a great delicacy and the cylindrical bee hives adorn the branches of many trees. The bees are affectionately called "warriors of God." Of course, the Konso assert that theirs is the best honey in Ethiopia, a distinction shared by every honey producing community in the country! Making a living in this rocky, steep land is difficult, to say the least, but the Konso have almost made an industry of hard work that is evident in the success of their farming. This industriousness has earned the Konso the reputation of being the hardest workers in Ethiopia. But it is added, with a certain amount of admiration and disbelief, that "they actually enjoy hard work!"

 

THE KARA TRIBE

THE KARA TRIBE

The Kara people, who speak an Omotic language, are a small group (approximately 1,000 people) occupying the left bank of the Omo River. They are closely related to the Benna-Bashada-Hamar group and the Dassanetch-Arbore.

 

According to their oral tradition, the Karo believe their roots are as herdsmen who emigrated to the mountains of the Hamar and Banna peoples. They lived there for some time until one day their livestock disappeared in search of water. The livestock eventually returned, but when they disappeared again, the Karo followed them. This is how they discovered the existence of the Omo River and came to settle on its banks. However, the tsetse fly wiped out their herds and they ended up dedicating themselves to agriculture in order to survive (Sorghum, Corn, and beans).

 

The Kara established symbiotic agro-livestock relations with their neighbors the Hamar-Benna-Bashada and the Dassanetch. Nowadays supplement their survival economy with beekeeping and fishing, which was taboo until necessity drove them into it recently. Only single young men are allowed to fish, but they must complete a purification ritual immediately afterward. A similar adaption occurred with hunting. Necessity was joined by the social prestige acquired by killing a dangerous animal. Hunting is presently controlled by official groups which aim to preserve the fauna of the region.

 

A part of the Karo’s small accumulation of livestock (goats and sheep) is looked after by the Hamar. In return, the Hamar receive sorghum from the Karo. This is all connected by a series of links and alliances between both groups, and the belief that they all share a common genealogy.

 

Kara people believe that the Dassanetch and Arbore are of the same family. Therefore any conflict between them is taboo. The Karo and Bashada people manufacture earthenware pots that are used in commercial transactions with other groups, especially with the Dassanetch, who provide sorghum when their harvests have not been sufficient.

 

While the Kara maintain friendly relationships with these groups, they have quite a different approach to their neighbors, the Nyangatom and Mursi. These relationships have given rise to occasional but bloody conflicts. The year 1993 saw the most recent conflict-a disagreement over ownership of arable land on the eastern side of the Omo River.

 

However, according to some Kara, the conflicts with the Mursi occur because of the desire certain Karo have for guns and prestigious scarification (for successfully killing a person). They wish to demonstrate their value as warriors.

 

The two most important Kara villages are Dous and Korcho. In the villages, people reside in conical huts (ono). These homes are renovated about twice a year due to destruction by termites. In front of these huts, there is a flat building where the family sleeps during the dry season. On visiting a village, you notice a kind of “door” in front of the hut and other places, which is made of two posts in a Y shape. Atop the posts are horizontal wood bars from which hang a series of objects such as buffalo tails, ears, and hooves. This is the mulda, a symbolic framework entrance to the house. There are family and clan muldas. At the end of each village, there is a marmar, a sacred place where only married people may go and where the most important rituals are carried out.

 

The most important ceremony in the life of a Kara is the pilla, or jumping over a group of Oxen. This ritual marks the passage from adolescence to adulthood. The ceremony is similar to that of the Hamar, however the Karo only have four chances to hump over the oxen without falling. If the community cannot come up with a suitable herd, they borrow one from the Hamar or buy it from the Dassanetch. After the pilla, the young male may marry. The dowry is fixed at 127 goats and is generally made up in the years after the marriage. Similar to other groups of the region, sexual relations between young, single people are open but produce serious social problems if any children result from these relationships. Such children are considered bad luck (mingi) are abandoned.

 

The same happens to any child who is born with a deformity of does not attain predetermined expectations such as the growth of the upper teeth before the lower ones. Accidents which damage the penis at a young age or in the case of girls, damage the breast, are also considered bad luck and may result in abandonment of the child. This belief is especially prevalent throughout the Hamar-Banna, Arbore, and Tsamako. Efforts made by the government to eradicate abandonment have faced strong opposition. The group believe that the mingi  disgrace the family and group.

 

The most striking thing about Kara people’s symbolic and ornamental expressions is the painted body and face decorations. This is an elaborate process which ranges from fine and elaborate details to rough, but striking paintings traced with the palms or fingers. The most beautiful expression is in the facial and chest paintings that combine white (chalk), black (coal), yellow, ochre, and red (minerals).

 

The Nilotic Kwegu lives among the Omotic Karo. Kwegu people are superiour hunters as well as courageous and skillful navigators of the dangerous Omo River. A part of the Kwegu known as the Muguji appears the original population before the arrival of the Karo.

 

The Kara Tribe: A Rich Canvas of Tradition

The Kara tribe residing along the borders of the Lower Omo River incorporates rich, cultural symbolism into their rituals by using ornate body art, intricate headdresses, and body scarification to express beauty and significance within their community. This lively tribe, numbering under 1000, is the main sedentary agriculturalist group in the Lower Omo Valley area of southern Ethiopia. Their environment, though limited both in advanced materials and natural resources, does not preclude their desire for unique self-disclosure, both aesthetically and symbolically.

Many of their traditional rituals might have originated with another neighboring tribe, the Hamar, which is of the same lineage but numbers approximately 30,000. 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 ochre, white chalk, yellow mineral rock, charcoal, and pulverized iron ore, all natural resources local to 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. The painted human body is then augmented into a living, aesthetically pleasing, communicative art form, full of cultural meaning and jubilant expressionism.

Both the Kara and the Hamar men use clay to construct elaborate hairstyles and headdresses for themselves, signifying status, beauty, and bravery. One decorative headpiece in particular holds an analogous symbolic representation for both tribes. 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. 

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. Each line on his chest represents one killing, and complete chest scarification is not rare. 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. 

Tribal communities employ artistic practices into their daily lives 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 result 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.

The Kara and the Hamar frequently 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. 

The small Karo tribe’s existence is somewhat precarious. They are acutely aware of imposing governmental agencies, officials, and the powers-that-be which could impinge upon their survival once technological and civilized growth grabs hold of this otherwise remote and forgotten territory. The inevitability of the encroaching populace and the introduction of modern weaponry has affected their already delicate ecosystem, specifically through land degradations and widespread wildlife poaching. Being the smallest tribe in the area, this group obviously struggles with direct threats from nearby tribes that have more gun power, greater numbers, and likely coalitions with one another. The Karo have recently attempted making peace with these larger groups, recognizing that if they are to survive as a unique culture, they must maintain a peaceful coexistence with their neighbors.

When looked at within the context of a whole culture, the Karo’s primitive yet elegant lifestyle should provide us all with perspective and a clearer outlook on our own daily rituals, and what they mean to us, if anything. Every primitive culture not lost to the modern world or its influences, possesses remarkable qualities unique unto itself, and it is within that uniqueness that the civilized world can become enriched.

 

THE HAMAR TRIBE

THE HAMAR TRIBE

The Hamar live in the Southern Omo Zone, or Omo Valley, near the Kenyan border. Their name is also spelled Hamer. 

The southern part of the Omo Valley is known as the 'poisoned paradise': the landscape is beautiful but climatic conditions are simply too hot and dry to be conducive to good health and longevity. Not surprisingly, people over 45 years old are a rarity in these parts. This pastural semi-nomadic people numbers about 50,000. 

The Hamar share traditions and rituals with surrounding peoples like the Tsamai, Aari, Banna, and Bashada. One of these traditions is the so-called 'jumping over the bull'. If a young man wants to marry the girl of his choice he will have to jump over bulls picked by the girl's family. He is required to jump over them four times: two times in each direction. He is assisted by friends (called the 'maz'); those who have successfully performed the jumping in previous years. They (try to) hold the cattle to prevent the young candidate from falling. If the jumper fails, it is considered a bad sign and he will have another chance a year later. Not seldom will the people blame the wind in case of his failure, and will they allow the aspiring groom a second chance. If the groom-to-be succeeds, he may keep the girl in exchange for cattle given to her family. For two months the betrothed couple will share blood and milk (blood from the cow's neck is mixed with her milk and drunk). A wealthy, strong man may marry up to four women. 

Some other aspects are remarkable: the Hamar are seriously pre-occupied with their appearance. They have at times spectular coiffures, especially the men. Even their way of sleeping is determined by their hair-do, as they use a wooden pillow that prevents the hair from touching the ground. They have three names: a human name, a goat name, and a cow name, which emphasizes the enormous role of cattle in their lives. Worth mentioning is the initiation ceremony for young men: they have to run over the backs of thirty cows standing side by side - four times, falling not allowed. 

Hamar

The Hamar live among the bush covered hills on the eastern side of the Omo Valley in southern Ethiopia. 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 life

The 50,000 to 55,000 members of the Hamar make their living as successful cattle herders and farmers. Once they hunted, but the wild pigs and small antelope have almost disappeared from the lands in which they live; and until 20 years ago, all ploughing was done by hand with digging sticks.

The land isn’t owned by individuals; it’s free for cultivation and grazing, just as fruit and berries are free for whoever collects them. The Hamar move on when the land is exhausted or overwhelmed by weeds.

Often families will pool their livestock and labour to herd their cattle together. In the dry season, whole families go to live in grazing camps with their herds, where they survive on milk and blood from the cattle. Just as for the other tribes in the valley, cattle and goats are at the heart of Hamar life. They provide the cornerstone of a household's livelihood; it’s only with cattle and goats to pay as ‘bride wealth’ that a man can marry.

There is a division of labour in terms of sex and age. The women and girls grow crops (the staple is sorghum, alongside beans, maize and pumpkins). They’re also responsible for collecting water, doing the cooking and looking after the children - who start helping the family by herding the goats from around the age of eight. The young men of the village work the crops, defend the herds or go off raiding for livestock from other tribes, while adult men herd the cattle, plough with oxen and raise beehives in acacia trees.

Sometimes, for a task like raising a new roof or getting the harvest in, a woman will invite her neighbours to join her in a work party in return for beer or a meal of goat, specially slaughtered to feed them.

Relations with neighbouring tribes vary. Cattle raids and counter-raids are a constant danger. The Hamar only marry members of their own tribe, but they have nothing against borrowing – songs, hairstyles, even names – from other tribes in the valley like the Nyangatom and the Dassanech.

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. Although it’s paid over time like instalments of a bank loan, it’s so high (30 goats and 20 head of cattle) that it can't usually be paid back in a lifetime.

One effect is that whenever a family has a lot of livestock, the wife’s and mother’s brothers will claim outstanding bride wealth debts. It means that Hamar men can't stay wealthy and grow wealthier as their livestock is claimed by others. If a man can afford the bride wealth, he can have three or four wives. Women only marry one man.

Because men tend to be older than their wives, they often die first. Lots of Hamar households are headed by women who have survived their husbands – one study found an amazing 27 out of 39 married women were widows. A widow also has power over her husband’s younger brothers (and their livestock) if their parents are already dead. 

Brothers and sisters are important to each other in other ways. The most dramatic example is the ritual whipping before a brother’s cattle-leaping ceremony.

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 four 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 amounting to 30 goats and 20 cattle.

The Dorze tribe

The Dorze tribe

The inhabitants of this village are known as the Dorze, one of the many small segments of the great Omotic language group of southern Ethiopia. Once warriors, they have now turned to farming and weaving to earn a living. Their success in the field of weaving has been phenomenal and the Dorze name is synonymous with the best in woven cotton cloth. Chencha, in fact, is famous for the fine cotton gabbis or shawls that can be bought there.

Each amazing Dorze bamboo house has its own small garden surrounded by enset (false banana plantation), beds of spices and cabbage, and tobacco (the Dorze are passionate smokers). The main house is a tall-up to twelve meters bee-hived shaped building with an aristocratic ‘nose’, which forms a reception room for guests and is usually furnished with two benches. The vaulted ceiling and walls of the spacious and airy houses are covered with an elegant thatch of enset  to form a smooth and steep unbroken dome.

When a Dorze house starts to rot or gets eaten by termites, the house is dug up. Bamboo is sewn round it to keep it in shape, and everyone rushes to help carry it. With poles poked horizontally through the building, men, women, and children all join in the effort-with a fine complement of singing- to move it its new site. A house lasts for about forty years and is then abandoned.

THE DIZI tribe

THE DIZI tribe

The Dizi are an Omotic-speaking people in the Omo Valley, near the small town of Maji. They number 25.000, traditionally divided into twenty tribes that are hierarchically organized and linked together. All Dizi live in the relatively cool highlands, surrounded by the Tchai, the Tirchana, and the Suri peoples. Dizi were independent until 1898, at which time they were conquered by the Empire and subsequently exploited and enslaved by all the surrounding peoples as well as the Northerners. Enslavement was the consequence of the integration of the Dizi in the so-called gabbar system, comparable to the European and Asian feudal systems of the late middle Ages. This tragedy reduced their numbers by 70% within two generations. The communists did the rest in the 1970s, taking away all tokens of dignity from the Dizi leadership as well as all of their religious symbols. The Dizi were reduced to a small people of farmers, all sharing their Dizi background: a mere shadow of the traditional structures of the past remains, but the integrity of the Dizi nation and her way of life have disappeared for good. 

 

THE DASSANETCH Tribe

THE DASSANETCH Tribe

(Elele-Galeb-Galeba-Inkabelo-Inkoria-Koro-Marille-Merille-Naritch-Nyupe-Oro-Pokot-Randal-Reshiat-Riele-Ri'ele)

The Dassanetch live just north of Lake Turkana, the region where Ethiopia borders Kenya and Sudan. The Dassanetch are neighbored by Turkana and Nyangatom and are Ethiopia's most southern people.

They are very similar to the Nyangatom of West-Ethiopia, with whom they are almost identical in appearance, way of life, economy, social structure, and physical appearance. The only real difference is the language. The Dassanetch speak a completely different language and are actually the only Kushite-speaking group of the Omo Valley. Most probably the two peoples are not related, but have had a profound influence on each other. 

The Dassanetch are known under more than one name, like Glebe, Murielle and Reshiat. These names all concern the same people, in total 24.000 souls. The Dassanetch can however be divided in eight clans. These are the Elele (ca. 6,000 people), Inkabelo (8,000), Inkoria (3,000), Koro (700), Naritch (3,000), Oro (1,000), Randal (1,000), and Ri'ele (600). Two of them (Inkabelo and Inkoria) come forth from the same ancestors: the Nyupe tribe in West-Kenya, also called the Pokot. These have more or less assimilated the Naritch (probably a splinter group of the Murle of Western Ethiopia) and the Oro. The Oro historically probably have had the dominating language and are solely responsible for the Cushitic language now spoken by all Dassanetch. The river people Ri'ele seem to have Borena background but have been Dassanetchated as time went by. The Randal are connected historically with the Rendille of Northern Kenya, whereas teh Koro are related to the Maasai of Lake Turkana's west coast. Having contemplated this information it will not be hard to understand that the Dassanetch aren't a united people, but more like a cluster of small groups with shared language, land, and rituals.

All clans have a more or less defined territory, except for the Koro and Oro, who are semi-nomadic. The Inkabelo are the wealthiest Dassanetch and occupy the best land (Oro and Koro actually travel around in Inkabelo land). One other thing worth mentioning is that all Dassanetch seem to have natural antipathy against fish. Eating fish is really a last resort in times of crises.

The most important ritual of the Dassanetch is the so-called dime. Taking part in the dime ritual are those men who have daughters that have already reached puberty. After the ceremony, which takes six weeks, the participants are upgraded to 'great men', or those that may engage in politics. The dime ritual is directly connected to the upcoming marriage of the daughters and consists for the larger part of slaughtering large quantities of cattle (per participant: 10 cows, 30 sheep and/or goats). By the end of the ceremony the participants are extremely well-dressed, wit ostridge feathers in their clay hair, oxtails around their arms, leopard skin over their shoulders, as well as the same skirt they wore during their circumcision many years earlier. In their hands they will carry wooden shields and a stick with a fall us symbol.

CULTURE OF ETHIOPIA

CULTURE OF ETHIOPIA

Ethiopia, an old country beyond all imaginations, has culture and traditions dating back over 3000 years. With over 80 different Ethnic groups with their own language, culture and traditions. The strong religious setting, celebrations and festivals play an important part in every ones daily life.
Church ceremonies are a major feature of Ethiopian life. The events are impressive and unique. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has its own head, follows its own customs, and is extremely proud of its fourth century origins.

Ethiopia's Islamic tradition is also strong and offers colorful contrast, particularly in the eastern and south-eastern parts of the country. In fact, there were Ethiopian Muslims during the lifetime of Prophet Mohammed. This rich religious history is brought to life in the romantic walled city of Harar, considered by many Muslims to be the fourth "Holy City" following Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem.

It is situated following the vast Omo River, the sole feeder of east Africa’s forth-largest lake- Lake Turkana in Kenya.  Its landscape is diverse that boarders the Mago and Omo river.  It is the center of many ethnic groups with their original culture.  It constitutes the inhabitant peoples who live as man’s forefather lived thousands of years back.  It is the only place in Africa free of any influence of colonization, even isolated from other regions in Ethiopia.  There are also very untouched national parks – Mago and Omo.  These parks are the ideal places for game viewing and birding.

LANGUAGE

Ethiopia has 83 different languages with up to 200 different dialects spoken. The largest ethnic and linguistic groups are the Oromos, Amharas and Tigrayans.

Ge'ez is the ancient language, and was introduced as an official written language during the first Aksumite kingdom when the Sabeans sought refuge in Aksum. The Aksumites developed Ge'ez, a unique script derived from the Sabean alphabet, and it is still used by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church today. Tigrigna and Amharigna (Amharic) are the modern languages which are derived from Ge'ez. Amharic is the official national language of Ethiopia. English, Arabic, Italian and French are widely spoken by many Ethiopians.

The Ethiopian languages are divided into four major language groups.These are Semitic, Cushitic, Omotic, and Nilo-Saharan.

Semitic

The Semitic languages are spoken in northern, central and eastern Ethiopia (mainly in Tigray, Amhara, Harar and northern part of the Southern Peoples' State regions). They use the Ge'ez script that is unique to the country, which consists of 33 letters, each of which denotes 7 characters, making a total of 231 characters.

The Semitic Languages:

  • Adarigna 
  • Amharigna 
  • Argobba 
  • Birale 
  • Gafat 
  • Ge'ez 
  • Guragigna 
  • Chaha group (Chaha, Muher, Ezha, Gumer, Gura) 
  • Inor group (Inor, Enner, Endegegna, Gyeto, Mesemes) 
  • Silt'e group (Silt'e, Ulbareg, Enneqor, Walane) 
  • Soddo group (Soddo, Gogot, Galila) 
  • Tigrigna 
  • Zay 
  • Cushitic

The Cushitic languages are mostly spoken in central, southern and eastern Ethiopia (mainly in Afar, Oromia and Somali regions). The Cushitic languages use the Roman alphabet and Ge'ez script. For example, Oromo is written in the Ge'ez script whereas Somali is written in the Roman alphabet.

The Cushitic Languages:

  • Afarigna 
  • Agewigna 
  • Alaba 
  • Arbore 
  • Awngi 
  • Baiso 
  • Burji 
  • Bussa 
  • Daasanech 
  • Gawwada 
  • Gedeo 
  • Hadiyya 
  • Kambatta 
  • Kemant 
  • Konso 
  • Kunfal 
  • Libido 
  • Oromigna 
  • Saho 
  • Sidamigna 
  • Somaligna 
  • Tsamai 
  • Werize 
  • Xamtanga 
  • Omotic

The Omotic languages are predominantly spoken between the Lakes of southern Rift Valley and the Omo River.

The Omotic Languages:

  • Anfillo 
  • Ari 
  • Bambassi 
  • Basketto 
  • Bench 
  • Boro 
  • Chara 
  • Dime 
  • Dizzi 
  • Dorze 
  • Gamo-Gofa 
  • Ganza 
  • Hammer-Banna 
  • Hozo 
  • Kachama-Ganjule 
  • Kara 
  • Kefa 
  • Kore 
  • Male 
  • Melo 
  • Mocha 
  • Nayi 
  • Oyda 
  • Shakacho 
  • Sheko 
  • Welaytta (Welamo) 
  • Yemsa 
  • Zayse-Zergulla 
  • Nilo-Saharan

The Nilo-Saharan languages are largely spoken in the western part of the country along the border with Sudan (mainly in Gambella and Benshangul regions).

The Nilo-Saharan Languages:

  • Anuak 
  • Berta 
  • Gobato 
  • Gumuz 
  • Komo 
  • Kunama 
  • Kwama 
  • Kwegu 
  • Majang 
  • Me'en 
  • Murle 
  • Mursi 
  • Nera 
  • Nuer 
  • Nyangatom 
  • Opuuo 
  • Shabo 
  • Suri 
  • Uduk 

OMO VALLEY AND ITS PEOPLE

•• Untainted with any outside influence, the indigenous Southern region boasts with its scenic landscape and impressive culture. Here in this vast expanse of Rift Valley land, varied cultural features under any restriction of time are being reflected. This land comprises an eclectic collection of people, language and norms existing in an immense region and clustered in hamlets and it undeniably makes visitors to be in their elements for their part of life.

•• The Omo Valley is unique in that four of Africa’s major linguistic groups including the ‘endemic’ Omotic languages are represented within one relatively small area. To anthropologists; the Omo Valley is not far from being the proverbal ‘Living Museum’. The area is home to many diverse and fascinating peoples and cultures:

 

Benna tribe

Benna tribe

The Banna live in the Southern Omo Zone or Omo Valley, near the Kenyan border. Their name is also spelled as Benna and Bena. The most important villages for their market activities are Key-Afar and Jinka, the latter sometimes being referred to as the Paris of Ethiopia - this is however a gross exaggeration**. The southern part of the Omo Valley is known as the 'poisoned paradise'. The landscape is beautiful but conditions are simply too hot and too dry to promote good health and longevity. Not surprisingly, people over 45 years old are a rarity in these parts. This pastural people numbers about 10,000. Unlike most other Ethiopians of the South they do not have community houses and often spend the night in the midst of their cattle. Some Banna do undertake agricultural activities, but climate and infertile land are unfavorable to this lifestyle. At the market they sell mainly butter, some vodka-like brews, and hard grains like tef. 

The Banna share many traditions and rituals with surrounding peoples like the Tsamai, Aari, Hamar, and Bashada. One of these traditions is the so-called 'jumping over the bull'. If a young man wants to marry the girl of his choice he will have to jump over bulls picked by the girl's family. He is required to jump over them four times: two times in each direction. He is assisted by friends (called the 'maz'); those who have successfully performed the jumping in previous years. They (try to) hold the cattle to prevent the young candidate from falling. 

 If the jumper fails, it is considered a bad sign and he will have another chance a year later. Not seldom will he suffer a beating by the girl's relatives. The surrounding peoples are a bit more tolerant and will blame the wind in case of his failure, and do allow the aspiring groom a second chance. If the groom-to-be succeeds, he may keep the girl in exchange for cattle given to her family. For two months the betrothed couple will share blood and milk (blood from the cow's neck is mixed with her milk and drunk). A wealthy, strong man may marry up to four women.

 

THE A’ARI tribe 

THE A’ARI tribe 

(Argenne - Shangama - Ubamer)

The A'ari is a people of the South, living in the Jinka highlands. In this region they are the culturally and economically dominant group. Their language is Omotic. They live in tribes with a clan structure - these tribes used to live independently from one another until 1897, when they were conquered by Ethiopian empire.

The three largest tribes are the Argenne, the Shangama, and the Ubamer. The economic system is based on farming, on small farms with crops like coffee, wheats, and various root crops.

Walking through the green mountains of Ari in southern Ethiopia one would recognize that some of the attractive grass-roofed houses of the Ari people are decorated with beautiful wall-paintings in natural colours. In Ari, painting is done by women. Women plaster the walls of their houses with mud and renew the walls and floors of their houses regularly. The word for wall-paintings in Ari is bartsi what means "giving beauty" and the paintings are done by women who are skilled. As Sambetti Galshi expressed it "men just farm the whole day, that's why they don't know how to paint.


The women who decorate their houses, all have their own personal style of painting; they paint not only different patterns and motifs, but they also use different materials and colours. The motifs and patterns will be explained with each individual painting. For painting, the women use their fingers, hen feathers and sticks of yams plants. The colours found on houses are made out of ground charcoal, battery acid,ash,light soil,red soil,cow dung and water.

 

Culture

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