Home DestinationsAfrica The forgotten world in the Omo valley

The forgotten world in the Omo valley

by Chloe

Low Omo Valley is a prehistoric area near Lake Turkana. The discovery of many fossils here, especially that of Homo gracilis in the 1930s and in the period 1968 to 1976, as well as simple stone labor tools, are of fundamental importance in the research. human evolution. Along with the uniqueness of this area, it was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1980.

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The tribes living in the Omo valley are said to be among the most interesting tribes in Africa and in the world. There are many tribes such as Arbore, Ari, Bena, Bodi, Bumi, Daasanech, Dorze, Hamer, Kara, Konso, Kwegu, Mursi, Tsemay and Turkana living in this valley.

The last remaining tribes here are living proofs and are the ones who still keep the precious cultural features of mankind.


Boys from the Hamar tribe living in the Omo valley are painting their faces, those who before participating in the festival mark maturity

People living in these tribe like to paint their face with a number of patterns, each person has their own ways to make up themselves.

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Older Surma people, if drawn, will follow the existing pattern; on the contrary, young people draw in all kinds of ways to express their will and interests freely. Materials for drawing are earth, pigment, ground from stones, leaves, bulbs, fruits… found in the forest. The colors are primitive but mixed into very harmonious colors, the overall look is an interesting work of art. They draw for each other. This person says his ideas and desires to the other person to draw continuously.

Ethiopia: Tribes of the Omo Valley | Community Photos | Wild Frontiers

When they are finished, they will sing and dance to show their joy. Most of the kids don’t wear any clothes, so the drawing is also something of an “outfit”! Surma girls, in addition to drawing pictures, also wear strings or strings with snails, stones, beads and wear on top of jewelry made of leaves, feathers, dried fruit … each style.

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Besides painting on their own face, they also like wearing colorful beads and bracelets. Especialy, in Surma and Mursi tribe, women have tradition to wear a huge plate on their mouth as a way to attract men and it is a very helpful way in receiving dowries. The larger the plate size, the more appreciated that woman and the more dowry they earned as cattle when marrying.

A Dassanech girl

Girls at the age of 15 or 16 had their lower lip cut to insert the plates. Over the years, the cutout under the lips grew larger and the insertion plate grew as well.

A woman with a big plate on her mouth

However, the tribes living in the Omo valley are facing the changes of the times.

The changes of modern life are beginning to invade here. A giant hydroelectric dam is building electricity on Omo’s rivers to power the vast commercial plantations. The indigenous inhabitants were forced to leave the land they were living in, the land of their ancestors from thousands of generations.

Their habitat was inherently fragile, and now everything stands on the brink of danger. Loss of land, loss of livelihoods, accompanied by the risk of annual floods destroying agricultural areas.


Cow jumping ”is a ritual to confirm that a young Hamar male is ready to be an adult, taking on the responsibility of marrying and raising a family and owning herd of livestock.

Tourism growth has also influenced their behavioral lifestyles, their lifestyle and worldview. If before, they only had a life based on nature, now they start earning money for each photo shoot.

It’s really rare to find out what the primitive life of this community was like.

If traditional costumes, jewelry or headgear were familiar, now they begin to put these on to serve tourists. Children are painted on their bodies, but not according to old traditions, only for visitors to take pictures.

The ceremonies were also held more often than before, becoming popular for men. In addition, there are traditional maturity ceremonies, marking a teenager that is old enough to own a family and own cattle.

When reaching adulthood, young Hamar must participate in a mandatory ritual that allows him to marry, have children and own his own herds. Young Hamar’s parents will be the one to decide when this ceremony takes place and they are usually held after the harvest.

They are also more curious about the modern items that the outside world brings. It is not sure if this has any effect on life here, but changes are inevitable.

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