Ethiopia is truly a land of exploration – bright and beautiful, different tribes, secretive, mysterious, and unusual. First of all, this is a country of deep antiquity, culture, and traditions that are more than 3000 years old. Coming to this beautiful country, you travel back in time, get acquainted with ancient architectural monuments, and communicate with the most ancient local peoples.
Ethiopia, like many other African countries, is a multinational state. Mixed marriages have blurred many differences over the years, but many peoples remain isolated from the modern world. Mainly untouched by civilization is the south of the country, particularly the valley of the Omo River.
The valley of the Lower Omo River is home to dozens of unique ancient tribes. Nevertheless, some of them are easier to identify and more interesting to travelers.
Tribes in Ethiopia
1. Hamer tribe
Hamers are known for their buffy hair in women. Hamer’s men perform the bull jumping ceremony as a coming of age rite. The opening part of this ceremony involves the beating of women on the back with whips, and the women take pride in the scars as they testify to their tolerance in the future marriage. Both men and women scarify (scar) their bodies using thorns to scar their skin.
2. Tsemai tribe
Tsemai, the dominant people of the Weito village on the Konso-Jinka road, is considered one of Ethiopia’s least-known ethnic groups. Their territory, numbering about 5,000 people, stretches along the western bank of the Weyto River, known in Tsemai as the Dulaika River. The Tsemais, also known as Tsemako or Tsemay, are a Nile ethnic group in southwestern Ethiopia. They belong to the low-lying East Cushite family, which also includes Dasenech and Erbore.
Tsemay is predominantly followers of their ethnic religion, which believes that man and woman created the world. The origin of the Tsemais describes in folklore. The Tsemai are agro-pastoralists who used the Weito River banks, suitable for growing crops and other plantations such as cotton. They also graze livestock, like all the tribes of the Omo Valley.
In Tsemai society, unlike most other people in rural Ethiopia, there is no established custom that would prohibit girls from premarital sex. Still, Tsemai culture categorically prohibits girls from carrying a child outside of marriage.
3. Karo tribe
The Karo, known for their body art, leads a very traditional lifestyle for the Ethiopian tribes, raises cattle and goats, and is engaged in agriculture. They are very far from Western life and are very different from the urban Ethiopians.
4. Bodi tribe
Bodi tribes(also called the Me’en people) live near the Omo River in southern Ethiopia. The Mursi tribe lives to the south of Bodi. Bodi is cattle breeders, and farmers also grow sorghum, corn, and coffee on the banks of the river.
They live with their cattle, and livestock plays a significant role in the life of the tribe. Bodi men are usually overweight because they consume a lot of honey. Men wear a strip of cotton at the waist or go naked.
In June, Bodi celebrates Ka’el, a tradition where a participant’s body fat level is measured. Each family or clan is allowed to declare an unmarried member. The winner of this competition is honored with the glory of the tribe. Men also wear a headband with a quill attached to it during the ceremony. Women – wear goatskin skirts and insert a fork into their chin.
5. Bashada tribe
Bashada is a small indigenous ethnic group of agro-pastoralists living in southwestern Ethiopia. Bashada lives near 15 other ethnic groups in the South Omo administrative zone. Bashads have often been seen as a branch or subdivision of Karo or Hamar; however, Bashadas claim their history and identity.
The Bashada people also speak the Hamer Benna language. They raise livestock, produce the same foods as Hamer’s people, and visit Hamer’s same areas. During dry seasons, the people of Bashada also collect honey.
Bashada means poor. The name comes from when they were the poorest inhabitants of the region, but that time is long gone. Now they make good money with pottery.
6. Nyangatom tribe
Nyangatom (also known as Bome) sometimes migrates to the lower regions of Omo National Park when there is not enough water or pasture to graze. The population is about 6,000 people, and they speak one of the Omoti group languages – Nyangatom.
They are agro-pastoralists, relying on cattle grazing and agriculture consisting mainly of sorghum harvesting on the Omo and Kibish rivers. In other words, they are partially nomadic hunters and pastoralists who measure their wealth in terms of the size of their herds. However, flood agriculture is now playing an increasingly important role in their existence.
Nyangatom are known as great warriors and quite often active instigators of inter-tribal wars. Although they are peaceful and friendly, they conflict with neighboring tribes, including Hamer, Karo, and Surma.
7. Mursi tribe
With a population of about 7,500, they lead a very isolated lifestyle. The tribe is considered quite aggressive and is irreconcilable about the invasion of lands by Chinese companies. They have their own language and practice a religion that falls under the category of animism (belief in the existence of spirits and souls). Mursi still wears clay plates inserted into their lower lip and do body painting for various reasons, including medical treatment.
Dasenech is known for its remote settlements and nomadic buildings. It is the southernmost of the tribes living in the Omo Valley in Ethiopia, just 28 km from Kenya’s border. They live in small huts made of twigs, corrugated iron, and animal skins.
Usually, several men are armed with submachine guns to protect livestock from hyenas at night. Cattle are of great importance to the tribe. They are a symbol of riches, strength, and authority in the tribe. Not to mention an important source of milk, clothing, food, and blood used for drinking during severe seasonal drought.
9. Benna tribe
Generally speaking, the Bennas belong to the Hamar- Bashad cultural group. About 35,000 of them, primarily sedentary farmers, live in the highlands east of Mago National Park. They go to the park to hunt during the dry season; if they manage to kill a buffalo, they decorate it with clay and have a party.
10. Erbore Tribe
The Erbore move to their current homeland from Konso, perhaps two centuries ago. Because they have ancestery and cultural ties with Konso and the pastoralists of the surrounding lowlands, Erbore has traditionally played an essential role as intermediaries in trade between the Omo River and the Konso Highlands. The city of Erbore locates in an area where the borders of several tribes converge, so the Erbore people usually marry other ethnic groups such as Guji and Borena Oromo, Hamer, and Tsemai.
11. Konso Tribe
Konso is a tribe that inhabits an area of basalt hills about 85 km south of Arba Minch. They speak the Kushite language. The Konso live in villages, usually located on top of a mountain and surrounded by a two-meter stone wall.
Many of the towns of Konso, known for their stone walls and distinctively shaped houses with thatched roofs and ceramic decorations, are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Konso knows throughout Ethiopia for its advanced farming practices, including irrigation and terrace building. Also very famous is the waqa Konso – carved wooden monuments erected on the graves.
12. Tribe Dorze
The Dorze are known for their crafts using artificial banana fibers. It is a small ethnic group in Ethiopia of about 28,000, whose language belongs to the Omotic family. They live mainly in southern Ethiopia, although some have moved to Addis Ababa and other areas. Most of Dorze live in villages close to the cities of Arba Minch and Chencha, which locate in the Semien Omo zone of the region of southern nations, nationalities, and peoples.
The women of the tribe bear most of the family’s responsibilities – they must take care of all the children and all other household chores, including cooking, collecting firewood, and making yarn from the false banana leaves’ fibers. On the other hand, men spend mainly of their lives on farms or building huts, and in some villages, they engage in moonlighting.
The uniqueness of the Ethiopian tribes lies in that each tribe is very different from the other, from clothing to traditions. Some are small, with populations ranging from 1,000 to 7,500. However, there are tribes such as the Konso tribe that are pretty large, with over 250,000.
Be aware of the weather in Ethiopia as it can directly affect your visit to the Omo Valley. In this area, the roads are not asphalted, and to get to some of the tribes, you need to overcome the channels of rivers and streams, and some tribes can only reach by boat. Ideally, the rainy season that starts in March and lasts until the end of June should avoid. The optimal time to visit Ethiopia and the Omo Valley is from September to February, during the dry season.