Way of Life
The Tsemay tribe live around the Woito River and are predominantly agriculturalists. The principle livelihood of the Tsemay is rearing livestock, but they practice agriculture alongside animal husbandry. They mainly produce sorghum and maize using the slash and burn method and shifting cultivation. They have a tradition of cooperating with each other during land preparation, as well as farming and harvesting, which is a common feature of most of the tribes in the Omo area. Decisions are made by calling a bulki (general assembly). The spiritual leader of the Tsemay tribe is the bogolko, who prays for rain, good harvests, the health of children and also makes the sacrifices. Tsemay tribes are considered as magicians by people in the urban areas of the southern Omo area.
Similar to all the lowland tribes of the Omo, the main staple of the Tsemay tribe is prepared from sorghum and maize. In the absence of sufficient grain they use local plants such as halekko (moringa), erro, merahie and machie as alternative foodstuffs. In times of surplus, the Tsemay mix sorghum with ash so that it can be stored for a long time without being spoilt or damaged by insects.
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The men wear the ode, a sarong-like garment. They also wear beaded ornaments on their elbows and neck. Until marriage, girls wear garments made from cotton or leather. Married women wear the fulat, a skirt made from leather that is narrowed at the front and thicker at the back. They also wear kashe (a necklace).
The Tsemay have five types of marriage:
• haliko egail – arranged marriage
• wawaki bais – consensual marriage
• midi – marriage through abduction
• shano – marriage by inheritance
• sagarte – replacement marriages.
In most cases, unlike the other tribes of the Omo Valley, the Tsemay tribe do not have their partner chosen for them. They are free to make their own choice. When a couple agrees to live together, the groom will take the girl to his father’s house. The father then smears the bride with butter and prepares a skirt made of goatskin. The following morning the father sends elders to the girl’s house. When the girl’s father agrees, the dowry is paid. The bride’s family then prepares a feast for the couple and the groom’s family. At the end of the ceremony both families give their blessing for the newlyweds.
Conflicts / Disputes
The Tsemay people are considered one of the most peaceful peoples among the tribes of the Omo Valley. The existence of the same spiritual chief of the Arbore and Tsemay has enabled them to live peacefully and help each other.