Way of Life
The Nyangatom are predominantly pastoralists but they also practice dry farming during the wet season and flood cultivation along the west bank of the Lower Omo and at Kibish Rivers during the dry season. Within the territory of the Nyangatom two different types of settlement and lifestyle have evolved. Along the west bank of the southern Omo River the Nyangatom practice agriculture, growing sorghum, maize, beans and tobacco. They also fish in the Omo River. It’s likely that these tribes-people live here because at some point they lost their cattle. It is impossible to raise livestock along this section of the Omo River because of the Tsetse fly. The rest of the Nyangatom live a more semi-nomadic pastoralist lifestyle, moving with their herds throughout south-western Ethiopia, the Ilemi Triangle and the Toposa lands of neighboring Sudan.
The Nyangatom are divided into about seven main- and 20 sub clans. Membership is via the paternal line – you belong to the clan your father belongs to. These clans vary in size from a few members to several hundred. The Nyangatom – are also divided into territorial sections. These might be named after migratory birds (Storks, Flamingos, Ibis) or have ethnic names (Kumam, Ngaric), or other names taken from nature (Castor Tree). Social organization is by – generation-set. Each generation is given a name. The earliest ancestors are called the Founders. Their sons were the Wild Dogs. Then the Zebras, the Tortoises, and the Mountains follow and so on. The oldest generation-set still living is called the Elephants; then the Ostriches and the Antelopes. The youngest generations are known as the Buffaloes Fathers and sons always socialize separately. The Elders remain in the village while the boys herd the goats that graze on bushes around the village. The women milk the livestock. The traditional leader of the Nyangatom is the akatuken.
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The elders of both sexes wear a lower lip plug, with the men’s made from ivory and the women’s from copper. Young girls wear a dress made from goat- or sheepskin with unique decoration made from nails. Nyangatom women wear strings of brightly colored beads around their neck. When the Nyangatom warriors kill an enemy, they scar their upper body to release the bad blood, providing obvious lasting evidence of their heroism. Body scarification is practiced by men and broadly by women for decoration.
The Nyangatom recognize four types of marriage:
• alaito – arranged marriage
• akopor – consensual marriage
• astergnar – marriage through abduction
• akumar – marriage by inheritance
As part of their initiation, sons have to prove they can look after their elders. In a ceremony watched by the whole village, the young men each try to kill a bull with their spear. A single thrust into its right side pierces the liver and causes a massive hemorrhage, which kills quickly without spilling too much of the precious blood. It’s the way the men show they can provide for the Ethnic Group. Once they’ve completed their initiation, they’ll become a member of the village’s dedicated fighting force (Ibex) . It is their job to defend the community and their cattle. They will have to spend their days out with the herds, risking their lives to protect them. According to tradition, every 50 years or so the elders hand over sovereignty to their sons. In the past this involved a barely hidden form of human sacrifice.
Conflicts / Disputes
The Toposa are closely related to the Nyangatom and are allies against their common enemies. They are part of a larger group, the Karimojong cluster, which includes the Karimojong, Jie and Dodos of Uganda, the Turkana of Kenya, the Jiye and Toposa of Sudan and the Nyangatom of Ethiopia. The prevailing theory is that these peoples migrated from north-eastern Uganda in the midlate- 19th century. It was during this migration that ancestors of the Nyangatom were given the name Elephant-Eaters (Nyam-etom), which they then transformed into Yellow Guns (Nyang-atom). They are known to most Ethiopians as Bume and to the Turkana of Kenya as Dongiro. Even if the Nyangatom and Toposa are allies, both groups face common, permanent or potential, enemies. While moving through the Ilemi Triangle, the Nyangatom fear Turkana raids from the south, and they consider the Surma and Baale (known as Kachipo in the Sudan) as irreducible foes from the north. Recently, relations between the Surma and the Nyangatom have improved and trade is beginning between the tribes. Since the
1990s the Nyangatom, armed with automatic weapons, have managed to push the Surma far to the north. As a result they have established, along with the Toposa, an important pastoral and military settlement at the foot of Mount Naita near the traditional Surma territory near the Ethio- Sudanese border. The Nyangatom also have conflicts with the Mursi, the Dassanech, the Karo, and the Hamer. Despite the language differences between tribes, the Nyangatom are famous for their storytelling and singing. The favorite animals of the young men are known as song cows and song bulls. In ceremonies and during fights with their neighbors, the ethnic group sings about them. You can hear these cattle songs sung by children in the village and they’re picked up and copied by other groups across the region.