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03.12.2019 Article

Omo Valley Tribes Present Cultural Treat for Ethiopian Visitors

By Steve Richer
Omo Valley Tribes Present Cultural Treat for Ethiopian Visitors
LISTEN DEC 3, 2019

Ethiopia is known to experienced travelers for its history of humanity, unique animals, ancient religious sites, dramatic scenic vistas, diverse special events, world renown cuisine, and internationally recognizable music, dance, and art.

Despite all these riches as a destination, one other element makes Ethiopia an important top choice for experienced travelers--its ethnic tribes located in the Omo Valley in southwest Ethiopia along the Omo River.

There are eight different tribes in this region whose population approaches 200,000. They have lived there for centuries.

The Omo Valley is a classic Ethiopian destination, featuring some of the characteristics anticipated by visitors to Africa, which includes tribal customs and lifestyles not related to other cultures. These tribes find unique ways to express their artistic impulses.

Five of the tribes--the Karo, the Mursi, the Suma, the Dassanech, and the Hamer--have retained their own customs and traditions over the centuries. The Suma and the Karo are experts at body painting, using local clays and vegetable pigments to trace fantastic patterns on each other's faces, chests, arms, and legs. All of this is just for fun with the designs created by the artists who are trying to compete and outdo other tribal members.

Desale Mitiku Asfaw, CEO of Grand Holidays Ethiopia Tours, says, "Safaris to the Omo Valley are one of our most popular elements in visits to Ethiopia. All of our guests are fascinated to experience tribal culture and meet members of these friendly, unique communities in our country. It goes without saying that this part of our tour product generates some of the best photography and videos, becoming a warmly remembered part of any visit to Ethiopia."

Mitiku Asfaw cited five tribes as great examples of the experiences awaiting travelers. "Our visitors embrace the tribes enthusiastically. The Mursi, Hamer, Dassanech, Suma, and Karo tribes are among the most popular."

Here is some background on each. The Mursi, are the most celebrated residents of South Omo, are a distinctive group of pastoralists. They are known for their unique decoration item, the lip plate. Mursi women wear a circular clay plate in their lower lip. The bigger the plate, the more the woman is valued as a marriage partner.

The Hamer display an elaborate and diverse selection of body decorations. including ornate necklaces, ankle and wrist bangles, beadwork, and leather.

The Dassanech live on the shores of the Omo River and inhabit Kenya, Sudan, and southern Ethiopia. They are known for their unique hair buns.

Both the Suma and Karo tribes are masters at body and face painting, which they practice daily. Before any rituals or dances, they paint their faces and bodies and those of their friends, using colored soil, minerals, plant pigments, flowers, white chalk, and black charcoal. Men are also decorated with red clay hair buns.

Mitiku Asfaw concluded, "No trip to Ethiopia should miss this cultural bonanza. We respect the tribes and offer this part of our experience in a way to honor and learn from their traditions."

Omo Valley tribes and their centuries long traditions are a deeply loved element of the Ethiopia travel experience

(Photo courtesy of Dave Southwood).

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