OMO VALLEY, ETHIOPIA-Tucked deep in the country’s southwestern corner, Ethiopia’s Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR) is one of Africa’s most diverse areas, a relatively small state (a little larger than the U.S. state of Maine) that’s home to more than 45 indigenous ethnic groups.
Part of the Great Rift Valley, a visit to SNNPR’s remote lower valley of the Omo can include a chance to experience a different tribal group each day. Overnight in the small towns of Jinka, Konso and Turmi, and visit villages populated by the following peoples:
Karo: Meant to intimidate tribal foes as well as attract mates, the Karo — a tribe of about 1,000 people that lives near a big bend in the Omo River — cover their bodies in intricate and dazzling patterns made with ochre and white chalk mixed with animal fat. While they welcome visitors to their villages, make sure to bring plenty of small bills. Photos are welcome, but come with a price — about five birr (30 cents Canadian) per person in the picture.
Dorze: Living in thatched homes that resemble beehives, the Dorze subsist by selling their famous cotton weavings and by making breads and cakes from the leaves of the “false banana” tree. One village high in the hills above the city of Arba Minch offers tours, where you can see the inside of the huts, shop for pottery and woven items, and try a shot of their potent homemade alcohol, a fermented drink made from garlic, anise, hops and sorghum.
Mursi: Perhaps the most photographed tribe in the SNNPR, the Mursi are famous for the lip plates worn by the women of the tribe. Made of clay or wood, these are seen as a sign of dedication to their culture (and their husbands). The plates are typically inserted after puberty, after a period of several months, during which the lower lip is pierced and then increasingly stretched. The plate is worn for special occasions and ceremonies, and thrown away forever when the woman’s husband dies. Men in the tribe are famous for their Donga stick-fighting tournaments, a sort of tribal Olympics where they compete for honour and status.
Tim Johnson was hosted by Peregrine Adventures, which didn’t review or approve this story.
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