September 2014 tour: photo-report from Omo valley

Time: 15.09.2014-30.09.2014
Location: Northern and Southern Ethiopia

Omo valley, the home of the lost tribes

I decided to divide the photo-report of our September tour to the Northern and Southern Ethiopia just like I divided the tour program itself, into three logical parts: Omo valley, Danakil desert and Erta Ale volcano, and Christian Ethiopia (Lalibela, Tana, Gondar). Let us start with the first part, the Omo valley.

Drive from Addis Ababa to Arba Minch takes around 10 hours and seems like travel in time. We left the stuffy and dirty capital, drove hundreds of kilometers to the south and got sucked in the indescribably beautiful and atmospheric valley. For 10 hours, we observed the change of the landscape, architecture, and, most importantly, people.

The first tribe that we met in this tour is the Hamer. One of the most beautiful, vivid and independent tribes of Omo. This is hardly a surprise, as the tribes own hundreds of square kilometers of fertile lands, hundreds of cattle and their women are considered the exquisite beauties of the valley.

1. We were lucky to witness the party after the Bull Jumping ceremony, hosted by the family of a guy that successfully went through the rite of passage ceremony. There were dances, songs, drinking of the locally made moonshine, and, of course, barbecue.



2. All the Hamer girls are gorgeous! One can easily tell a married girl from a single girl (and also the first wife from a second and third wife) by the clothing and jewelry.



3. Next day we continued exploring the lands of the Hamer tribe. One may want to capture this moment forever by just looking at this dusk photo, I think.



4. And this one.



5. Afterwards, our way was to Omorate, the Omo river and the Dassenech tribe that lives on the banks of the river. This is one of the most remote, poor and miserable tribes of the Southern Omo. As you can see, we crossed the river in the world’s most authentic canoes made from acacia tree.



6. Women of Dassenech are big fashion-mongers and everything that they can find, they put on their heads, like wine openers, coke bottle lids, and pots. This tribe still practices pagan rituals (the Hamer tribe does that, too), sometimes adding some protestant cult in the mix. The other tribes of the valley don’t like them very much because of their dark skin and being poor.



7. After lunch, we drove to the next tribe, the Karo. Their village is located on the very picturesque site, overlooking the Omo river, bushуы and a recenyle made field. The name ‘Karo’ means ‘Fish eaters’ and they are among the few tribes who eat fish. They are close relatives with the tribes of Hamer and Bena and share many traditions. However, their languages and especially the appearances are different.




8. My Karo girlfriends.



9. The next day we moved out towards Jinka, to the Mago park, where the tribe of Mursi resides. But even before we ever got there, we had stopped by the weekly market at Key Afar, the biggest in the Omo valley. The tribes of Hamer, Ari and Bena go there to trade. On the photo below, the handsomest of Bena is contemplating purchasing a steer. This one would cost around $200. The bigger cows and bulls may run as high as $500. And the young goat can only cost $50-70.



10. Here is the star of our travel – the Mursi lady! Women of Mursi insert huge clay plates in their lips and ears. These days it is considered pretty and elegant, but the roots of this tradition go way back to the ancient slave markets and the attempts of the tribal people to prevent kidnapping to be sold. Women mutilated themselves to avoid becoming desirable, and with time, as it usually happens, this creepy tradition gained the new meaning. Today, the prettiest Mursi is the one with the largest plate in her lip.



11. Mursi, just like Dassenech, love their fancy hats. These days most of Mursi wear cotton palantines that they buy from Kenyan Maasai, but this is how their most authentic clothes look like: the skins with patterns.



12. That was our last day in the Omo valley. On our way out, we visited the tribe of Arbore. This small but rich tribe has a reputation of the best shamans and priests in the valley. Nobody wants to fight them, and if people in any other tribe have a difficult problem that they can’t solve themselves, they come to the priests of Arbore, with the gifts. By the way, Arbore is one the few tribes of the Omo valley that still widely practice female circumcision.



12. The beauties of the Omo valley.



13. Children of Ari are the sweetest kids in the Omo valley. I want to adopt all of them when I see them. They are very friendly, fun and happy. Their parents are very friendly as well and will teach you how to forge knives, mold plates and jugs, grind coffee, etc. They are very handy.



14.The top point of this post is our group photo in from of the classic Konso house. Note that Konko build their houses with two tiers that look just like the skirts of their women. By the length of the top tier of a Konso woman’s skirt, one can tell if she is married or not. Also, this is only one tribe of the area that has the cult of the dead. The deceased heads of clans are mummified and headstones (totem waka) are set up.


 P.S. Having left the Konso tribe, we left the Omo valley and moved to the north, towards the Danakil desert (see the next part of the photo-report). We were leaving Omo with some sadness (at least I did), as this valley is the only place in the world where emotions are real, where all the kids on the road wave and laugh, where the adults ask you to send them a photo that you just made and give you a little piece of paper with “Arbore village. Ethiopia” on it. I think this place attracts you here like a magnet if you click, and the only things that you want to is to have fresh lamb for for breakfast, lunch and dinner and wear red-and-black-and-green Hamer bead necklace.


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