Days Without Connection-Part 2- Karat Konso

Karat Konso is definitely a place that needs a separate blog page to mention. It is a small town on the Konso Highlands en route to the Omo Valley with its own unique culture and landscape scenery. It is perched at an elevation of 1,650m and is 90km far from Arba Minch. It was registered as a UNESCO Heritage Site in 2011.

The Konso people are well-known for their stone terracing and soil conservation system. They grow sorghum, wheat, barley, maize, peas, beans, bananas, cotton, tobacco, coffee and root plants.

Konso villagers drinking their sorghum wine at least 3 times a day.

Konso market

Konso woman in her traditional white costume with colorful fringes

Gesergiyo lies 17km from Karat-Konso by road up on the mountain. It attracts attention primarily for the adjoining formation of sand pinnacles sculpted by occasional water flow in a normally dry gorge. It is a magnificent and very unusual natural phenomenon. Rock formations of similar character can be found in other parts of the world but the fact that they are made entirely of sand makes them incomparable.

The external resemblance of the pinnacles to a row of ‘skyscrapers’ led some people to rename the area ‘New York’, but sure I myself prefer it’s original name Gesergiyo.

Local myths has Gesergiyo’s supernatural origin. The story goes that a local chief of the 9 clans awoke one day to find his ceremonial drums had been stolen during the night. He prayed to god, who swept away the earth from where the thieves had buried the drums, creating the sand formation in the process.

This landscape by erosion is magnificently revealing the powers of nature.

In addition to  The Konso are the only remaining stone tool-using culture. It is used for grinding grains, sharpening knives and spears, making anvils, lining wells, building walls and constructing dams.

The Konso people strategically live high on the mountains to keep themselves safe from being attacked by other tribes.

The Konso built their villages in a maize of stone walls to protect invasion from neighboring tribes

Gate to the Konso village

The Konso’s village huts

The chief’s hut as indicated by the ostrich egg on the roof top

Each walled village possesses several several public places, mora, of different tupes and functions. They are the site of political negotiations, administration of justice, rites of passage, sacrifices and victory or harvest ceremonies. They are also places for social gatherings and dancing.

In front of the mora are erected the generation poles. These poles are long dry wood of junipers, erected every 18 years when a new generation takes place. By counting the number of generation poles, one knows about the age of the village. The village I visited has 21 poles.

Also in the mora is the matrimony stone. This is a challenge all Konso boys have to take to prove their manhood before marriage by lifting up the stone to show that they have the force and power.

This is the ‘pafta’-a common house constructed for all active age men to live in the mora. The Konso has designed a system that all active men in the responsible age group are not permitted to sleep in their private house but to sleep and be on guard at the common house. This is to facilitate a rapid mobilization of all active men against any possible dangers such as attacks by other tribes, fires, etc. It is also the responsibility of all active men to keep the traditional stone walls.

The pafta has 2 storeys. The active men usually sleep on the top storey. Male guests from other villages may sleep in the pafta as well. A view from the pafta seeing a senior villager who does not welcome much the presence of foreigners and photography in his village.

Traditionally a waka would be erected above the grave of important konso men such as heroes or clan chief. The dead was usually represented in the center of the waka group and flanked by his wives. On the surroundings stood any enemies he had killed or fierce animals he had slained.


Days Without Connection

Embarking my Adventurous African Journey

On October 12, 2012, I flew from Addis Ababa (capital of Ethiopia) to Arba Minch (name means 40 Springs in Amharic) to embark on my adventurous journey in the South Omo Valley. The Omo Valley is a remote area in the south-western part of Ethiopia bordering Kenya. It’s located in the Africa’s Great Rift Valley. About 50 years ago, it was literally untouched by the outside world. It is a fascinating place with its own unique culture and diversity. It has once been known as the “Lost Eden”.

My wild African dream would not have been made possible without my “team” which consists of the following team members:

The adventurous explorer- me and the reliable 4×4.
The area is not easily accessible without a 4×4. Most of the roads are dirt paths climbing up and down steep mountains, rocky paths or marsh areas. The road conditions would even be harsher after rain.

The “Team”
My Muslim driver,Seid Ebrahim, has been driving these rough roads through the mountains and valleys for 30 years. He is so good avoiding the potholes and smoothening all the skids that I did not even need a single motion sickness pill nor my white flower ointment. I would highly recommend him to anybody who wants a driver to visit Omo valley.
The chubby guy is my local guide- his nickname is “Abush” which means little boy in his language.

In some places such as the Mago National Park, it is compulsory to hire an armed security guard carrying a rifle (AK47). His presence made me feel so much like a VIP. He was there not to protect me from being eaten by lions, but to keep me from the hassle of the tribal villagers. It is kind of sad to need such a service as the villagers are usually pretty benign. They swarmed over a foreigner simply because of curiosity or because of their basic needs are not met such as need for money, food and water, clothing, etc.They live in such a remote area that these amenities are not easily accessible except tourists are bringing in these items from outside.

On the first day, we drove by a small town called Weita where the Tsemai people were having their market day.

The journey was often slowed by these road users who always had the right of way- large herds of cattle and sheep

The Tsemai, are the dominant people in the Weita village. They speak an east cushitic language.

The Tsemai are mixed subsistence farmers who practice flood cultivation, with the major crops being sorghum and maize. They also rear livestock, cattle and keep beehives for honey.

Market days are great social gathering opportunities for the Tsemai villagers. The women often use clay mixed with butter to apply on their hair to give a copper color to make themselves look pretty.

These trucks, overloaded with passengers, are their ” local buses” to go to market.

Tsemai people greeting each other

En route to Jinka for the night, we went past another very colorful market.

Termite mount

Colorful market of Jinka

Jinka is the administrative capital of the South Omo zone. This small town has a small airstrip in the centre which used to land airplanes. Many traders from different areas come to Jinka’s market to sell their goods.

The second day  we went to the Mago National Park where the Mursi tribe lived. The steep dirt road between Jinka and Mago National Park was only 40km, but it took two hours to cover. Most of the park lied on the Rift Valley floor and was  covered densely by acacia woodland. Due to inadequate conservative measures, many large mammals were now severely depleted through years of poaching. Not many wildlife could be seen in the park.

White chalk markings on their chests are symbols of the Mursi tribe

Markings on arms to brag their bravery and how many animals they have killed

More Mursi women with disfigured lower lips

The accomodation for my whole trip was very modest. Most of the “4 star” hotel did not have power, water nor internet. Some hotels did have their own generator which might be on intermittently. It was an experience with complete  disconnection with the outside world. I also had the opportunity  to stay in a hotel which was built with mud, grass and cement looking like the following:

The hotel built with mud, grass and cement in Turmi

Hotel restaurant

Chef slaghtering a goat at the back of hotel

Vulture waiting eagerly for its meal

Washing basins

Common pit latrine

Each tribe living in the Omo Valley does have is own characteristic tradition, style, fashion and housing. On the third day, we went to visit the Hamer Tribe in Turmi.

The Hamer woman is adorned with thick plaits of ochre-colored hair hanging down in a heavy fringe, leather skirts decorated with cowries,and many copper bracelets.Married women wear thick copper necklaces- from her necklace, we can tell she is the second wife of her husband.

Hamen men can marry many wifes. This is the necklace worn by the first wife.

Crafts seen at the Hamer market:

Portable little stools used only by the Hamer men

Hamer men skilfully sitting on their little stools having a conversation….
Man with a feather indicates he has had the bull-jumping ceremony, an event that shows his adulthood, his readiness to own cattle,to marry a wife and can perform the ritual beating of women.

…while Hamer women only sit on the floor.

Hut of the Hamer people

The Hamer women are consensually beaten by men of their tribe who had suscuessfully undertaken the bull jumping ceremony. The pain and the scars on their back show their love to their kinsmen .

Women of all these tribes are very strong and they carry heavy loads on their back, walking long distances. This one is carrying grass to feed cattle back home.

I hope  this blog will give you a brief glimpse of the differrent tribes of people living in the Omo Valley. Can you tell the difference between them? Please follow on and more to come in my next blog.