#TravelAfrica Close up On Omo Valley: Home Of Southern Ethiopia’s Most Fascinating Tribes

Serene atmosphere, historical monuments, a kaleidoscope of cultures, come discover the natural beauty within the depths of Omo Valley, Ethiopia, unveiling a new side of the human race as well her offering a uniquely satisfying experience to her visitors.

Renowned for being one of the most fascinating regions in Ethiopia, and even the African continent, a warm, vibrant people, practicing pastoralism, cattle herding, and agriculture is the norm.

The stunningly remote area Omo Valley, more aptly called the Lower Omo Valley has for centuries played host to lots of curious minds around the world, offering a truly unique, memorable experience

Located in the Southern part of Ethiopia and home to eight primary tribes and over eighty communities (Karo (kara), Bodi, Hamer, Mursi, Dassanech, Kwegu, Benna, and Arbore), the last two, hinged on a mountainside away from the Omo River are less commonly visited. The regions are said to be mostly 2-4 hours drive time apart.

Boasting of beautiful landscapes,
terraced fields, rock engravings dating back 5000 years, an abundance of mammals numbering over 50 including the Nechisar nightjar – the world’s rarest bird, it’s no wonder the allure.

Free from the burdens of civilization and the outside world and unapologetic about their core values embracing traditional homes (huts), clothing and accessories, circumcision, piercing, body markings, and paintings, the Lower Omo Valley region has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1980.

A sneak peek at some of the tribes:

  • The Aari – Found just outside the town of Jinka, the Ari or Aari are the oldest and largest of the tribes of the Southern Omo from where other tribes originated, they reportedly number 320,000. Known for their famous natural blue eyes, they are also renowned for their prowess in agriculture and pottery-making.
    The Aari people are also arguably the most westernized of the tribes, donning on modernized clothes. Aari is partially Christianized many thanks to missionary work.
  • The Mursi, numbering about 8000 is said to be the best-known of the tribes of the Omo Valley. The Mursi women are well reputed for their wooden lip plates – a symbol of beauty and identity – more frequently worn by unmarried girls and newlywed women removed after the death of their husbands. The Mursi tribe is one of the most decorated and the boldest when it comes to asking for money for photographs, tourists find. A life-long tradition, the Mursi for centuries have indulged in the beauty of body painting, decorative scarring, and piercing by both males and females. Mothers paint their babies with white face paint to help protect a child from the supernatural.
  • The Arbore woman is distinguished by her colorful accessories, beaded necklaces, and bracelets as deemed necessary to enhance beauty.
    Apart from leaving their upper bodies exposed and cladding themselves with hundreds of beads, young unmarried girls completely shave their hair, as a symbol of virginity and cover their heads with a piece of black cloth to protect themselves from the sun, while married women braid their hair in short braids.
    The Arbore also practices body painting, some others favor scarifications on their chest and abdomen.
  • Kara, located next to the Omo River in the south of Ethiopia, the Kara tribe is visited often by tourists. One of the smallest tribal groups in the Omo Valley, they’re well known for being interesting photography subjects. Renowned marksmen, they wholeheartedly embrace the tradition of scarification and can be distinguished as well with their colorful body art and extravagant hairstyles. While there is a mix of western and traditional clothing, the villagers make use of local rocks and minerals mixed with water to create their body art and tribal face painting.
  • The Konso, a hard-working clan aren’t renowned for distinguishing themselves with body modifications compared to their counterparts. They are mixed agriculturists and live in the isolated region of the basalt hills. The highly industrious clan can be found wearing either traditional or western clothing. They also brag about having the best honey.

Gradually with civilization, things are changing in Omo Valley.
The region, plagued with poverty, cattle-rustling, violence, ethnic struggles, has a simple, happy life regardless. A true connect with the people without rudely springing up camera upon first contact, allows the pleasure of a genuine experience with locals. For lack of privacy by tourists, Omo Valley has been described as a ‘human zoo’, with little respect for the simple people, the tourists flood their homes, flash cameras in their faces, and zoom back without impact, leaving them stark with poverty.

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