Lower Omo Valley
Lower Omo River Valley is one of the most culturally diverse landscapes in Africa and the world. It encompasses over 16 distinct tribes or ethnic groups with unique culture and language.
The natural beauty of the Lower Omo Valley is unsurpassed. it is one of the few places in the world where you can witness ancient traditions as it was centuries ago. The people of the area have retained their ancient traditions. They practice bodily scarification for decorative purposes and as a mark after performing certain rituals.
Some of the tribes of the Lower Omo Valley perform ceremonies such as; bull jumping, stick fighting, lip cutting, male and female circumcision, etc.
Cattle, goats and sheep are vital to most tribes’ livelihood, producing blood, milk, meat and hides. Cattle are highly valued and used in payment for ‘bride wealth’ (dowry). They are an important defense against starvation when the rains and crops fail.
The Lower Omo River Valley is a UNESCO world heritage with its prehistoric site near Lake Turkana. It extends over an area of 165 km2. The discovery of many hominid fossils going back to the plio-pleistocene period, especially Homo gracilis, has been of fundamental importance in the study of human evolution.
The deposits of human vertebrae fauna, and paleo-environmental evolution, shed light on the earliest stages of the origins and development of Homo sapiens of Africa. The discoveries of ancient stone tools in an encampment also offers evidence of the oldest known technical activities of prehistoric beings, thus making the property one of the most significant for mankind.
Arbore tribe of Omo Valley in Southern Ethiopia are the southern neighbors of the Tsemay. They live in the hot plains north of Chew Bahir and are predominantly pastoralists. Livestock have high economic and social value for the Arbore. Book your Omo Valley tour with us and explore the most remote villages of the Arbore.
They keep cattle, sheep and goats. Milking cows, calves, sheep and goats are kept in the vicinity of the settlement. The rest of the livestock move from place to place in temporary camps. In times of drought the Arbore temporarily move their cattle to the neighboring Tsemay and Borana where they have peaceful and cooperative relations.
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The Arbore Tribe of South Omo Ethiopia practice a slash and burn shifting cultivation method of agriculture, which is dependent upon the flooding of the Woito River and the seasonal rains. For every harvesting season elected elders, known as murra, assess the suitable land for agriculture and distribute it among the people, giving priority to the poor, orphans and widows.
Girls and women are adorned with beads and bracelets. They dress in skirts made from skin uniquely designed and decorated with beads and pieces of metal. Unmarried girls shave their hair clean and put a black piece of cloth on top of their head for sun protection. Arbore men wrap a white piece of cloth on their heads.
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Arbore Tribe funeral
When an adult man dies all his jewelry is buried with him. Relatives will put butter and milk in his mouth with a new gourd and the corpse is covered with a new cloth and sheepskin. Then the relatives will ask the dead person to bless his cattle. Finally, four individuals will take the corpse and bury it. Following this ritual it is believed that his cattle will be safe.
A few days after he is buried a ritual called (awal) will follow. A goat will be slaughtered and one of the un-skinned legs is placed on the grave of the dead person. The grave will be covered with abdominal fat. The eldest son will then inherit his father’s wealth and must promise to distribute his father’s cattle to his paternal uncles and younger brothers. A feast is prepared for relatives and friends.
The Bodi Tribe of the Lower Omo River Valley of Ethiopia are predominantly pastoral, living directly north of the Mursi, with whom they share much of their way of life. Except for limited agricultural activity around the Omo River, the Bodi depend entirely on animal husbandry. You can visit the Bodi by booking one of our Omo Valley tours.
Their culture is very much based on cattle. Like the Mursi tribe, the Bodi’s classification of cattle is complex, with over 80 words used to denote different colors and hid patterns. They migrate with their cattle, constructing temporary camps to prevent overgrazing of the land, and they also practice slash and burn techniques to grow new grasses. When a child is born, livestock is bestowed upon him; the father will usually present him with an ox and a cow.
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The diet of Bodi tribe of Omo Valley consists mainly of blood (taken either directly from a wound made into the neck of the cattle, or stored in a calabash gourd), milk and dry porridge made either from sorghum or maize.
Men dress much like the Mursi and shave their hair in the same way. Bodi men are of larger stature than men from the neighboring tribes. Women dress in skirts made from goatskin tied at the waist and shoulder. The men fasten a strip of cotton or bark-cloth around their waist.
Like the Mursi people, women cut their hair short and wear a small wooden plate in their ear. And like the Kara, Bodi tribe women pierce their bottom lip and fill the hole with a nail or wooden plug in a wider mode. Body scarification is practiced by men and broadly by women for decoration.
The Dassanech tribe live around the Omo delta on the northern side of Lake Turkana. Omo Valley Tour and Travel will take you on an epic journey to witness this unique people. They practice flood retreat cultivation, pastoralism and fishing. The Dassanech are the most southerly ethnic group living in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo River valley.
The lands of the Dassanech (Daasanach) are semi-arid and they live where the Omo delta enters Lake Turkana. Their name means People of the Delta. Despite the lake and delta, this is an incredibly dry region; there is nothing but desert to the west and southwest. Get affordable omo valley tour packages with us and explore Omo Valley tribes in a unique way.
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Cattle are central to the lives of the Dassanech or Daasanach Tribe, just as they are for the other ethnicities of the Omo valley. As well as meat, milk, leather for clothing, houses and mattresses, they provide status in the community, and the bride-wealth that allows a man to marry.
The Dassanech tribe of Omo Valley Ethiopia community is not strictly defined by ethnicity. Over time the ethnic group has absorbed a wide range of different peoples and it’s now divided in to eight main clans. Each clan has its own identity and customs, its own responsibilities towards the rest of the community, and is linked to a particular territory.
The largest clan is the Galbur, or Water and Crocodile clan. The Dassanech believe its members have the power over both water and crocodiles
and are responsible for treating diseases throughout the ethnic group. The Turat clan is responsible for dealing with burns from fire. They have powers to ward off snakes and to cure many diseases, and also have the ability to keep their enemies away from their animals. Another important 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, and so on. Members of the same clan are forbidden from marrying – or indeed dancing – with each other.
The Hamar tribe are principally pastoralists, breeding cattle, goats and sheep. Omo Valley Tour and Travel offers exclusive visits to Southern Ethiopia’s Hamar people. They have a similar veneration for cattle as their close neighbors. The women and girls grow crops, with the staple being sorghum, but they also grow beans, maize and pumpkin. The women are also responsible for collecting water, cooking, and looking after the household and children – who start helping the family by herding the goats from around age eight. The young men of the village work the crops and defend the herds, while adult men herd the cattle, plough with the oxen and raise beehives in acacia trees.
As with the majority of tribes in the area, the land is not owned by individuals; it is free for use by any member of the family group. The Hamar move on when they’ve exhausted the land. get unique Omo Valley tour package to this astonishing people and witness extraordinary culture.
Diet of Hamar Tribe
A dry porridge of either sorghum or maize is consumed with milk or boiled coffee husk (shoforo). Balasha, dry bread made mainly from sorghum, is sometimes eaten with butter and honey.
The Hamar are amongst the most readily identifiable of all the peoples of the South Omo. Women wear an elaborately decorated goatskin, often colored with beads and cowries. Beaded necklaces, bracelets and waistbands adorn their bodies, which, for the Hamar tribe, tend to be made with black and red beads. (The Banna, their close neighbors, mostly use blue and black beads). Women wear thick copper necklaces announcing their marital status. They wear a lather long tipped necklace and two copper necklaces if they’re the first wife and only two copper necklaces if they’re second, third or fourth wife to one man.
One striking characteristic of the Hamar men and women is that they indulge in elaborate hair-dressing. Men wear a clay cap which is painted and decorated with feathers and other ornaments. They also paint themselves with white chalk paste during ceremonial events. The women decorate their hair with clay and butter twisted into a striking long plait. Ethnic men are often seen carrying a small stool or pillow in the Omo region in general.
The Karo tribe is quite small in number compard to other ethnic groups in the region. We offer unique Omo Valley tour packages for authentic tribal experience. Unlike with the lowland pastoralists, cattle are owned in small numbers by the Kara (Karo tribe), and goats are their main livestock. Although pastoralist by tradition, the Kara (Karo) now subsist growing sorghum, maize and other crops because of the livestock losses to disease in the tsetse-infected area some years ago.
Our Omo Valley tour package will take you to meet with Karo people. the Kara (Karo) live together in three large villages (Korcho, Duss and Labuk) as they are comparatively few in number. The Kara (Karo) tribe doesn’t have their own markets so they trade with the Hamar at the markets in Dimeka and Turmi.
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The Kara (Karo) have a traditional way of fishing. A portion of wood is sharpened at one end and used to spear fish in the Omo River or Lake Karo. In the language of the Kara (Karo) people, the word Kara (Karo) means fish.
They have cultural and linguistic commonalities with the Hamar tribe and perform the cattle jumping ceremony for young Kara (Karo) boys to pass into adulthood. Their diet mostly consists dry porridge or bread produced from sorghum is consumed with either milk or boiled coffee husk called shoforo. Young Kara (Karo) tribe boys mostly eat fish; meat is not often consumed unless there are ceremonies or family events.
In common with most of Omo Valley Ethiopia ethnic groups, scarification plays an important role in Kara body decoration. The men plaster their hair in tight buns (previously recognized as a hero sign) The hairstyle favored by Kara women is tightly cropped at the side, tied into bulbous knots and dyed ochre on top. Men and women also make an incision below their bottom lip and insert a nail or piece of wood. The Kara men are best known for the elaborate body painting they indulge in before important ceremonies. They paint their faces and bodies in white chalk and pierce their ears in five places
The Kwegu tribes of the Lower Omo River Valley Ethiopia live at the confluence of the Mago and Omo rivers. They are predominantly pastoralist, but those living at lower altitude practice mixed farming. Kwegu tribe have a tradition of bee-keeping. Hives (known as Wera) are constructed by men from brushwood, creeping plants and barks, and covered with grasses. Each man owns 15-20 hives which are hung from forest trees along the riverbank. The Kwegu (Mugugi) tribe live on the honey as well as trading it in the local markets.
The traditional leaders of the Kwegu people of the Lower Omo River Ethiopia tribes are the imunkapen and the pankagudel.
The Kwegu (Mugugi) tribe builds boats, known as gaggi, which are their only means of transport along this stretch of the Omo. The boats are made by hollowing out a large tree, such as the fig (Ficus sp.). The young Kwegu (Mugugi) tribe men then build the craft using local handmade tools, with the construction process overseen by the more experienced men. These large boats can carry 8-10 men and are propelled with a long Y-shaped pole.
The main diet of the Kwegu (Mugugi) tribe of South Omo Ethiopia is either dry porridge or a kind of bread made from sorghum and maize, with boiled coffee or milk. The honey they produce constitutes a large part of their diet.
Kwegu (Mugugi) tribe’s women shave their hair clean with a razor blade. They also wear a lower lip plug and adorn themselves with beads and jewelry. Women wear dresses made from lather which is designed in their traditional style with unique decoration made from nails. The tribesmen are visibly less adorned than men from neighboring ethnic groups.
The Kwegu (Mugugi) tribe value consensual marriage, abductions are considered taboo.
Hunting is practiced individually as well as in groups. The hunters are blessed before they leave to bestow success upon them. During the blessing, which is performed by a senior member of the village, the hunters disclose any grievance they may have with another member of the hunting party.
A member of the village is designated as the rain maker and during times of shortage a ritual is undertaken in order to produce rain (to aid cultivation). The rain-maker is taken to the Omo River where he is dipped into the water, after which he is served milk and honey. The group then shares borde (a locally produced beer made from sorghum). The rain-maker also performs rituals to ease excess rainfall. During this ceremony the rain-maker takes a sample of mud and places it inside his house.
Kwegu (Mugugi) tribe (Mugugi) tribe boys are circumcised between the age of seven and eight. Each village will build a temporary hut outside their permanent residence where the boys will remain secluded for some time. During this time the boys are provided with everything they need by their families. The circumcision is undertaken by a member of the clan. Once circumcised the boys walk home one by one with their parents.
The Mursi tribe of Omo Valley Ethiopia are predominantly pastoral but they also engage in limited agriculture. They live in approximate area of 1,900 square kilometers with an approximate population of 7,500. The altitude of Mursi territory varies from 460 meters to 1666 meters having semi-arid to arid climate. They have 12 clans. Omo Valley Tour and Travel offers affordable packages to these amazing people.
Cattle are the Mursi’s most prized possession. They measure wealth by the number of cattle they own and men name themselves after the color of their favorite cattle while women mostly are named after wild animals with attractive skin colors like giraffe, leopard, zebra, colobus monkey, kudu, etc. The Mursi tribe of Omo Valley Ethiopia are considered one of the wealthiest ethnic groups in the area as they own greater numbers of cattle.
Virtually every significant social relationship, most notably marriage, is marked and validated by the exchange of cattle. The dowry is usually a number of cattle (around 30-40) and, more commonly nowadays, a gun. This bride wealth is given to the bride’s father by the groom’s family. For this reason, female children are seen as a blessing because they will eventually contribute to their father’s wealth.
This doesn’t mean that male children are any less important as they will be responsible for looking after the animals. Despite their reverence for cattle, the Mursi also practice flood retreat cultivation and rain-fed bush-land cultivation. It has been suggested that if they were to be denied access to the Omo River they could only survive by becoming dependent on food aid. Their main crop is sorghum, but they also grow maize, beans, chick-peas and tobacco. They are also known to hive bees for honey.
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The staple diet of the Mursi is a kind of dry porridge made from sorghum or maize. This is supplemented with milk and blood (taken either directly from a wound made into the neck of their cattle, or stored in a calabash gourd). Although it is uncommon, the Mursi do eat meat, usually in times of drought or at ceremonial events.
The Mursi are culturally and linguistically similar to the Suri and they believe they and the Suri are one people. Inter-marriage is not unheard of. Their next nearest neighbors’, both linguistically and geographically, are the Bodi and the Nyangatom, with whom there is intermittent hostility. The Mursi tribe are generally a feared race and their reputation amongst tourists is no better.
However, if you look beyond the surface you find an inquisitive, audacious, jovial and welcoming people. Even in this most remote and inhospitable place there is resoluteness about the people – perhaps it derives from their simple determination to survive – and yet, underlying this tough exterior, is a lighthearted and frivolous community.
The Nyangatom tribe are predominantly pastorals 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 tribe 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 tribe 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.
The Surma tribe or Suri people are pastorals who live in the lowlands to the west of the Omo River bordering Sudan. They live a similar lifestyle to the Mursi. As with the Mursi, cattle are invaluable to them. For both these peoples, it is the woman’s job to take care of the household and the land. Book adventure tours to Surma people of South West Ethiopia with Omo Valley Tour and Travel.
Traditionally, their homes are constructed from wood and grasses, and most of the cooking takes place outside on an open fire. The young boys and unmarried men take care of the cattle. They spend much of the year in temporary grazing camps, returning to their established settlements for additional food and ceremonial events. You can witness rituals of this amazing people by booking your Omo Valley tour with us.
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To the untrained eye it’s difficult to tell the Surma and Mursi tribes apart. Their clothing, beautification processes of scarification, lip plates, hair design and jewelry are all similar. Like the Mursi, Suri girls are adorned with a lip plug from their mid-teens. A hole is pierced in the lower lip and plugged with a piece of wood until it heals. It is then stretched by the girl who repeatedly places larger wooden plugs in the hole until it is replaced by the clay plate.
The Surma tribes or Suri tribe practice the art of body painting. Different clay are collected to acquire colors ranging from red, orange, yellow and white. They are mixed with a little water and painted onto face and body. The Suri are exceptional artists, although each design is both unique and only temporary. The Mursi practice this art to a lesser extent, but generally with less aptitude.
The principle livelihood of the Tsemay tribe living in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo River Valley 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 Omo Valley tribes (ethnic groups) in the area.
Decisions are made by calling a bulki (general assembly) of the Tsemay whoh dwels in South-West Ethiopian Omo Valley.
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 tribe ethnic groups are considered as magicians by people in the urban areas of the southern Omo area.
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Similar to all the lowland ethnic groups of the Omo, the main staple of the Tsemay tribe of Omo Valley Ethiopia 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 tribe mix sorghum with ash so that it can be stored for a long time without being spoilt or damaged by insects.
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).