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.
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.
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
Chef slaghtering a goat at the back of hotel
Vulture waiting eagerly for its meal
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.