Omo Valley

Located in the remote south-west of Ethiopia Omo valley, As many as two dozen different tribes occupy this region, some numbering tens of thousands, other no more than 500, each one of them culturally unique. As The south Omo region is inhabited by colorful, culturally diverse tribes who continue their traditional lives, little changed by the outside world. The major tribes are the Hamar, Mursi, Karo, Bena, Tsemai, Ari and Surma, each with their different languages, customs and dress. Some are masters of face and body painting, some have body scarification and stretching their lower lips with clay and wooded ‘plates’, whilst others have intricate hairstyles, using red earth and butter.

The Hamar are pastoralists who practice the famous bull jumping ceremony as a rite of passage for the young men of the community. The unmarried women of the Hamar tribe wear a cow skin ‘tail’, embroidered with brightly coloured beads (to attract the men !) and all Hamar women plait each other’s hair with a mixture of red soil and butter. The men use clay to create a hair ‘bun’ which is topped off with a feather. These indicate status and bravery, such as killing a dangerous animal. A visit to a Hamar market or village is an amazing spectacle.

The women of the Mursi tribe wear white body and face paint and earrings of local fruit dangling through cut and stretched ear lobes. They are most famous for inserting a lip plate (a clay disc) inserted into their cut and stretched lower lip. The Karo are known as the expert face and body painters of all the tribes, some individuals mimicking the marking of the guinea fowl. They also use handprints in white, yellow and ochre colors to decorate themselves. They also use body scarification and make intricate headdresses using fruit and vegetables. Both the men and women of the Suri tribe shave their heads but leave thin lines of hair in different patterns. The women have ear plates and lip plates and both sexes have body scarification. The young men take part in stick fighting contests between villages to prove their manliness to the girls. The children decorate themselves by face and body painting almost daily and decorate themselves with elaborate ‘hats’ made from various fruit and flowers.

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