Dassanech Tribe, Omo Valley Tours, Omo Valley Tour and Travel

Way of Life of the Dassanech Tribe

The Dassanech live around the Omo delta on the northern side of Lake Turkana. They practice flood retreat cultivation, pastoralism and fishing. The Dassanech are the most southerly ethnic group living in Ethiopia’s Omo valley. The lands of the Dassanech are semi-arid and live where the Omo delta enters Lake Turkana. Their name means People of the Delta. This is an arid region despite the lake and delta; there is nothing but desert to the west and southwest.

Cattle are central to the lives of the Dassanech, just as they are for the other ethnicities of the Omo valley. As well as meat, milk, and leather for clothing, houses and mattresses, they provide status in the community and the bride-wealth that allows a man to marry.

The Dassanech community is not strictly defined by ethnicity. Over time the ethnic group has absorbed many different peoples, and it’s now divided into eight main clans. Each clan has its own identity and customs. Its responsibilities towards the rest of the community are linked to a particular territory.

The most prominent clan is the Galbur, or Water and Crocodile clan. The Dassanech tribe believes its members have the power over water and crocodiles and are responsible for treating diseases throughout the ethnic group. The Turat clan is responsible for dealing with burns from the fire. They have powers to ward off snakes and cure many diseases and also have the ability to keep their enemies away from their animals. Another influential 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, etc. Members of the same clan are forbidden from marrying or dancing with each other.

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Diet

As with most pastoralists in the area, the diet of the Dassanech people usually consists of dry porridge with milk, but they also hunt crocodiles and fish the Omo River.

Appearance

Dassanech women wear clothes made from leather. The men wear sarong-like garments. Both men and women of the ethnic group adorn themselves with beads and bracelets. Men can often be seen carrying a small stool or pillow, which is ubiquitous in this southern region.

Marriage

Marriage
The Dassanech have four types of marriage:
• darech – arranged marriage
• garu wegesa – consensual marriage
• seriti – marriage through abduction
• ayodi – marriage by inheritance.
Marriage payments (koyta) can be made in cash and in-kind. The koyta is shared among the bride’s relatives, but the largest share will go to her father.

Ceremonial Events of the Dassanech Tribe

Dimmi

This ritual is a tradition associated with the blessing of the firstborn daughters. Dimmi is performed when the girl reaches the age of 8–10. Each clan has its particular site where they perform the ritual. Girls of the same age and family are blessed together. Before the practice begins, temporary huts are built. Goats and cattle will be brought to slaughter at the ceremony. The girls’ fathers are expected to be well decorated. A group makes the blessing of elders known as buls. The primary purpose of the blessing is to ensure the girl’s fertility in their future life. Following the ceremony, the father becomes an elder.

Circumcision

Both men and women are circumcised in Dassanech society as a pre-requisite for marriage. Male circumcision is known as edimita. Boys of a clan undergo circumcision together. Each family has a site designed for this purpose. Temporary huts will be built at the site, and the boys will be transferred to these huts. During this time, some members of their family visit to deliver food and other necessities. The circumcision ceremony lasts for three months, during which time the boys dance and feast on milk, roasted crops and meat. On the day of circumcision, the person responsible for circumcising the clan boys circumcises each boy one by one. Then the boys return home with their parents.

Dassanech girls are circumcised young, at around 10 or 12 years of age. If they are not circumcised, a girl can’t marry, and her father won’t receive her bride price, so he has a direct interest in her going through the ordeal. Until they are circumcised, girls are called wild animals or men to tease them. Girls may be circumcised in their mother’s house or in another village, but it’s always amongst other girls their age who are going through the same ritual. When the practice has been completed, the girl is given sour milk to drink and a necklace by her mother. She is allowed to wear a leather skirt to show she is now considered an adult from then on. Marriage often takes place shortly after that.

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Conflicts / Disputes

The Dassanech conflict with all of their neighbors because of the scarcity of natural resources and ongoing cattle-raiding. The Dassanech fight sporadically with the Hamar, the Nyangatom and the Turkana tribes with whom they share borders.

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