Recently, I went deep into the Omo Valley Tribes in Ethiopia and visited the tribal people living primitively in one of the most remote places in Ethiopia. The Omo Valley is one of the most fascinating regions in Ethiopia, all due to the rich cultural diversity of many ancient tribes that coexist in the area with peace and harmony.
The valley has a terrain of mostly dry savanna expanse fed by the Omo River, which is one of the most important resources for the tribes residing in this region. Hundreds of small tribal villages pepper the landscape, each of them with their unique customs, cultures, beliefs and even their own languages. These tribes have lived here for centuries, and since the discovery of human remains dating back to 2.5 million years ago. Undoubtedly, the Lower Valley region has been declared a Unesco World Heritage site today.
I’m exceptionally grateful for having this unique and rare experience to visit the Omo Valley Tribes in Ethiopia. As remote and foreign as it seems, it is possible to visit the tribes in the Lower Omo Valley region. Due to their location and inaccessibility, the journey can be either expensive, slow, or challenging trip. The journey can take a toll on you both logistically and physically. Knowing what I will be expecting to see, I have prepared a lot of snacks, toys, food and medicine for the children and people there. However, I was still “caught off guard” and heavily impacted by the scale of cultural shock! This humbling visit has impacted me even more than I would expect. Here are the 16 things Ethiopia has impacted me a lot.
Water is the source of life, the most important element in this world is water. Imagine we are so used to turn on our tap for clean water. There are people who needs to walk for miles to fetch water every single day. For their daily usage for drinking, cooking, washing or even cleaning.
Their water availability will have to depend on the mercy of weather. The tribes will be suffering from adverse condition due to lack of water especially during dry season or when they are hit by drought” Hence, most of the time the tribe will need to ration the water during the wet season and keep for usage during the dry period.
Think about them when you turn on your tap in future. 🙂
During my visit in the Omo Valley Tribes in Ethiopia, I brought some taste from home as a gesture mainly for the children. There was one incident when I was distributing bread to the children, there was far too many children more than what I have prepared, I don’t have enough for everyone. Hence I broke them into pieces and distributed equally. One girl got a small piece of bread, and she further broke them into smaller pieces and gave it to her younger siblings (i assumed). This unselfish gesture truly touched my heart. A situation like this, I didn’t see greed or desire, instead I saw love!
Another incident was when I was giving chocolates to the children, the guide told me, chocolates are not meant for the children in Ethiopia, I asked why out of my curiosity. The guide told me it is meant for rich people, even he himself never tried chocolates before too. The children took a small bites and share among themselves. Even tho it was nothing fanciful or expensive chocolate, but the taste of chocolates gave them so much happiness, evidently projected on the smiles of their face. It really warmed my heart.
While meat particularly mutton, beef, pork, or chicken is common for the Omo Valley Tribes in Ethiopia, vegetables like spinach is harder to obtain. When I was visiting the market in Dimeka, I witnessed the Hamer tribe women snatching and fighting for spinach as soon as it arrived. I didn’t realise the vegetables that often lay on my dining table are actually hard to come by for people across the ocean.
Today, many children are still suffering from hunger and malnutrition in the world. Children with big belly are not filled with food or gastric wind, or rather, it is a symptom of malnutrition. Due to the lack of protein, the stomach swell and it’s the first stage of malnutrition, a beginning of a serious consequences if left untreated. 🙁
Different tribes have different structures and housing architecture or design. Some are more advanced than others. But generally, most of the tribe shelters are movable huts. The materials are largely used from branches, woods or straws huts which is fragile. Most tribe people live in dome-shaped houses made from a frame of branches, covered with hides and woven boxes. Inside the huts, they have mats which lay on the floor for sleeping, they can squeeze in 13 to 15 people respectively. But the living standard varies across the tribes.
Some tribes like the Daasanech tribe don’t politically belong to any of the countries (Ethiopia, Sudan, and Kenya), and prefer to be self-governed. They are the only ones who are able to move freely between the countries and the borders. How cool is that? haha
On the other hand, human rights groups fear for the future of the tribes. Some are forced to scatter through loss of land or ability to keep cattle as globalisation and development increases. 🙁
When you visit the tribes in the Omo valley Ethiopia, there are many fascinating things to take photos of. Want to post something? I’m sorry, there is no Wi-Fi available, camera lack of power? again sorry there is no electricity. Can adjust the temperature? Hmmm, there is no air-conditioning or heater as well. Basically, there are not much of facilities or amenities you can expect. The tribes are consider living primitively, it’s really a rare experience to interact and visit the primitive tribes.
How many times do you shower per week? I’m sorry, let me try again, per day? haha. Well, the many of the tribes in the Omo Valley only get to bath when they go to the river. Depending on where they lived. Some may only bath once a week or even once every month.
When they get to the river, there will be a place for the men and another place for the women, but you will still see men and women mixing in some portion of the river too. And yes, everyone take their bath openly under the sun! Everyone is pretty much open and confident about their skin.
Asking yourself why do you need to study so hard in school? How nice if you can skip classes? Well, every morning when you wake up and decided to go to school, this choice is a “luxury” that many don’t benefit from. Just 49.1% literacy rate in Ethiopia, many children has no identification due to the massive population in the rural areas. Going to school is never a priority for many families. However, in recent years with the help from government and aid from many world organisations, situation is getting better. Sadly, there are still far too many children in Ethiopia who receives no education.
This resulted in many child laborers in Ethiopia. Many children will have to work at an early age, to help out in the family. Whether in the farmland, carrying crops to feed the cows, shepherds, cowherds or other chores needed in the family. A boring life playing Pokemon Go or watching Nickelodeon programmes is never an option for them!
How far does it take for you to go to the market everyday? 5 mins, 10 mins, or 30 mins? Whatever it is, it can never be as exciting as the Ethiopian Omo Valley tribes. The Mursi tribe for example, takes one full day per journey to visit the market in the city. Due to the inaccessibility, their market day is only once a week. They came down from the highlands, and trek across the Mago National park to the city’s market to trade or sell off their stocks and exchange with valuables for the coming week.
The tribes usually will go to the market as a group, and due to the long journey, they will need to stay overnight in wild and continue their journey next day. Now do you still think your market is very far?
When I was travelling between Turmi to Jinka in Ethiopia, I saw a lady with a baby girl behind her back, walking towards Jinka’s direction. As I was the only passenger in the vehicle, my driver, guide and I offered her a free ride. This ride has saved her from walking 5 hours under the scorching sun. Even though it was a small gesture of goodwill, it meant a lot to her. When I am giving others a convenience, in return, I’ve gotten a life lesson, I should be grateful for the convenience I have back home.
Complaining traffic jams, train breakdowns, squeeze buses, low frequency are common problems in the developed world.
The Mursi tribe in my opinion is the toughest to get to. It is located in the most isolated region of the country, in Southern Ethiopia near the border with South Sudan. This beautiful, sedentary tribe principally residing in the surrounding mountains between Omo River and Mago National Park. Getting there, I need to travel 3 days by car on the dirt path to the town of Jinka, and then travel a day across the Mago National Park, then high up the mountains on a rocky road to locate the Mursi tribe people. If you have motion sickness, this trip may be tough for you.
As for the Daasanech tribe, I will have to travel down South, near Kenya and Sudan border, near to the Northern part of Lake Turkana. Need to take a dugout canoes made from trunk of a gigantic tree across the river, and trek for a bit to reach their homes.
One of the delicacies in Ethiopia is call the “Kotcho”, an Ethiopian flat bread which is similar to the Injera (a sourdough flatbread) prepares by the Dorze tribe women, out from the trunk of false banana. The Ethiopians Kotcho made by the Dorze tribe people is highly regarded for its nutritional value and is widely consumed in the country. I’ve witness how a Dorze woman made a Kotcho with water, bulla (liquid from Ensete ventricosum aka false banana), and with fire and stone. All natural ingredients and most importantly by the natural way to cook, and it taste yummy!
In this way, you no need to be afraid you will run of out gas.
The Hamer tribe women are also well know for beautifying their hair with beads and dying them in brownish colour with ochre, a natural clay earth pigment which is a mixture of ferric oxide and varying amounts of clay and sand. It ranges in colour from yellow to deep orange or brown. This was recently found out by the researchers that the usage of ochre in dying their hair is the main reason for causing blindness in the Hamer tribe women. The government tried persuading the Hamer women to stop this practice, which is a sign of beauty to them, but it was ignored.
An interesting fashion trend amongst the Dassanach tribe people is their headgear. Especially the men, with a long feature and some multicolored beaded necklaces. They are truly talented and innovative. They will clearly make sure that they are made of recycled items to produce hand-made craft and jewelleries, decorations and try to sell them in their own “market”. Many of these items are made from buckets of dried small flowers and branches, or with decorated shells, white feathers and bottlecaps collected from discarded coke or beer bottles.
What are the things children aren’t able to resist? Ice cream, chocolates, and toys I guess? But yes, when I was distributing some toys to the children I met in Daasanech tribe, a confused reaction was something I wasn’t expecting. The children have absolutely no idea how to play the toy cars I brought from Singapore, it was my lovely guide who innocently asked me how to play. My guide don’t play the toys either, even though he is from the capital city Addis Ababa. He shared, many of the children have not even seen a car before. 🙁
You may be surprised, monies or candies are not the things that the Ethiopian children wanted! Along my journey in the Omo Valley Ethiopia, I saw many children in the villages, tribes or roads. Almost everyone asked me openly for “island”, a recycled plastic bottle that the children can use for drinking, or recycle it to exchange with money or candies. Apparently, the children in Omo Valley still don’t realise the value of money yet. Hence, island is a treasure to them.
I saw many children are using overly used plastic bottles that is clearly unhygienic and will be hazardous to the children’s health.
What is growing up for you? Celebrating your 18th or 21st birthday in a beautiful villa or chalet with your family and favourite friends? What about cutting a hole underneath your lip? At around 15 to 16 years old, The Mursi tribe young girl’s lower lip will be cutted by her mother. The opening of the wound is held open by a wooden plug until it heals. It will be up to the individual Mursi young lady to decide how big to stretch the lip apart, by inserting progressively larger plates over the years. It was believed the bigger plate the lip can hold, the more valuable it will be for the lady’s marriage arrangement.
This traditions has been passed down by generations. It was believe that the practice of cutting and stretching the lower lip originated during the western colonization period as a deliberate disfigurement, practice to make women and girls less attractive to slave traders. Since then, it was a tradition remain in the Mursi tribe. A fascinating, yet painful experience to witness this rare culture.
Signs of Love
How do you proof your love to your love ones? Getting a branded handbag or luxurious watch? Or increase your diamond karat as a signs of love for your partner? Well, the Hamer tribe women on the other hand submit to the rituals floggings, which marked painful looking deep scars in their own skin and flesh, as a regarded and proof of devotion and love to their husbands. Scars to show their love for the husband.
Are you willing to do something like that?
Chance of Survival
While I mentioned that having a choice to decide whether you want to go to school, whether what career you wish to pursue or what food you want to eat during lunch? These are all a luxury to many. Many children in Ethiopia don’t even have the choice to decide whether they can live!
Another sad culture is in the Hamar tribe, they are allow to have sex before marriage. A cruel tradition is that the unmarried women can have babies to “test” their fertility. Many of them will abandon their own innocent babies into the bush, leaving them to die in the wild. The Ethiopian government and some non-government organizations are actively searching for babies in the bush to save these innocent souls. The government tried educating the Hamer tribe to abort such traditions, but it was often ignored due to the superstitious belief that the child will be affected by evil eye causing epidemics or droughts. 🙁
Smiles on their faces
Despite all the above, you must be thinking Ethiopia must be a sad place. In contrary, throughout my journey in Ethiopia, I met many locals and even though they may seems leading a simple life, they are contented and happy! This makes me reflect what reality means to me. Whether our life is considered as reality or theirs? Your success in career, or in the material world and what would it means to them?
The smiles on the children’s face was golden for me, where I seldom receive from the children in the developed world. In terms of quality life, I think I know the clear winner, but who leads a more beautiful and happier life? I wonder…
I thought i bring a lot to the African children, but in fact I am receiving even more. I feel i have learned much more from this rare experience.
“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard
Where I Booked My Tours From?
While this is NOT a sponsored article! I would like to specially thank all the staff from Witness Ethiopia Tours, especially Mr Ermias, who arranged all my transfers and planned all my visits to the tribes according to my plans and budget. Easy breezy! I really love my lovely guide Dawit Abayenh and my super adorable driver Peter Dimo, please asked for them if you want to head off to Ethiopia. Dawit is an amazing and lovely guide. I never once felt unsafe, and he is so knowledgeable about everything. Going out with him is like a friend I have know for a long time, he is someone I can truly depend on. Peter’s driving skills is so skilful till I doubt any fast and furious champions can beat him. He is safe and could meander through the tough road very well, ensuring I have a smooth, comfortable and easy journey 🙂
For those who are interested, will leave the contacts below for your easy reference. 🙂
Witness Ethiopia Tours
Address: Down Town Building, 4th Floor, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Telephone: +251 911 785789