The Tribal Villages

Tsemay Tribe

Also spelled Tsamai, they are found living in the semi-arid region of the Omo Valley.  These people are agro-pastoralist and use both livestock herding and agriculture to survive.  Common crops grown by the tribe are sorghum, millet and of course cotton plantation by irrigating the Weyto River.Valley.  These people are agro-pastoralist and use both livestock herding and agriculture to survive.  Common crops grown by the tribe are sorghum, millet and of course cotton plantation by irrigating the Weyto River.

Like the Hamer tribe, the Tsemay boys have to successfully complete a bull jumping event.  This is a ceremony where the boy runs across multiple bulls.  If the boy can make it across four times without falling, he becomes a man.  To prove a boy has accomplished a bull jumping, he is outfitted with a band that has feathers on it.  It is worn on his head and it shows that he is now looking for a wife. Unlike any other tribe in Ethiopia, the Tsemay have arranged weddings. The parents of the woman pick who she will marry with or without her consent.  Even if the marriage is arranged, the man must still be able to afford to pay for his future wife.  Payment of cattle, honey, grain and coffee beans are accepted.  Women of the tribe, who are not married, wear a short leather skirt with a v-shaped apron attached.  Married women wear long leather dresses with an apron that have an apron covering their front and back side.  The men in the tribe are found carrying small wooden seats to sit with.


The Hamer is a tribal people in southwestern Ethiopia. They live in Hamer Bena woreda (or district), a fertile part of the Omo River valley, in the Debub Omo Zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region (SNNPR). They are largely pastoralists, so their culture places a high value on cattle.

The Hammer people are semi-nomadic pastoralists migrating every few months to find pastures for their goats and cattle. Huts are round and conical made from a dome frame of branches covered with grasses, mats, and hide About 20 huts around a meeting place where dancing and feasting occurs, and a cattle and goat pen make a village. The Hammer often trade with their neighbors for sorghum and corn as they do not grow it themselves. Goats and Cattle offer milk and meat.

Bull jumping:

Bull jumping: – Is a rite of passage ceremony for men coming of age must be done before a man is permitted to marry. The man-to-be must “jump the cattle” four times to be successful and only castrated male cattle and cows may be used to jump over. This test is performed while naked (except for a few cords bound across the chest) as a symbol of the childhood he is about to leave behind him. On completion of this test, the young man joins the ranks of the maza – other men who have recently passed the same test and who spend the next few months of their lives supervising these events in villages throughout the Hamar territory. The ceremonies end with several days of feasting, including the typical jumping dances, accompanied by as much sorghum beer as the bull-jumper’s family can provide to the visitor.

The Ari people inhabit the northern part of the Mago National Park in Ethiopia and have the largest territory of all the tribes in the area. They have fertile lands allowing them to have several types of plantations.  An Ari’s crop can consist of grains, coffee, fruits and honey.  It’s also common for them to have large herds of livestock.

Their women are known for selling pottery and wearing skirts made from banana trees called Enset.  Tribe members wear a lot of jewelers and have many piercings in their ears.  They wrap beads and bracelets around their arms and waist for decoration.

The Ari are known to paint and scar their bodies as part of their culture. You can find some of the Ari people visiting the market in Key Afer

Bena, and Benna are other spellings for the Bena people.  They are neighbors with the Hamer tribe and it is believed that the Bena actually originated from them centuries ago.  The markets in Key Afer and Jinka are often visited by them.

Just like most of the indigenous tribes in the lower Omo Valley, the Bena practice ritual dancing and singing.  The men often have their hair dressed up with a colorful clay cap that is decorated with feathers.  Both the men and women wear long garments and paint their bodies with white chalk.  Women of the tribe wear beads in their hair that is held together with butter.

The Bena look very similar to the Hamer and are often called the Hamer-Bena.  Common rituals and traditions of other tribes are shared by the Bena. The boys in the tribe participate in bull jumping.  When it is time for the boy to become a man, he must jump over a number of bulls naked without falling.  If he is able to complete this task, he will become a man and be able to marry a woman.

Bodi Tribe

The Bodi, ethnic group are live close to the Omo River in southern Ethiopia.  South of the Bodi are the Mursi tribe they are pastoralists (livestock farmers) and agriculturalists. Along the banks of the river, they will grow sorghum, maize and coffee.  They live with their cattle herds and livestock plays a large role in the tribe. Men of the Bodi are typically overweight because they consume large amounts of honey.  The men wear a strip of cotton around their waist or walk around naked.  In June, the Bodi celebrate Ka’el.  This is a tradition that measures the body fat of a contestant. Each family or clan is allowed to enter an unmarried contestant.  The winner of this contest is awarded great fame by the tribe.  Men also wear a headband with a feather attached to it during rituals.  The women in the tribe wear goatskin skirts and have a plug inserted into their chin.

Bumi Tribe

The Bumi or Bume people are also known as the Nyangatom. They live south of the Omo National Park but occasionally move to the lower regions if food or water is scarce.  Known to be fierce fighters, they are often at war with Hamer and Karo tribes.  Different from other tribes, the Bumi tribesmen hunt crocodiles using harpoons and a canoe. Scarification is practiced by both men and women in the tribe.  The women do it to beautify themselves and the men to signify a kill.  Both sexes wear a lot of multi-colored necklaces and May also has a lower lip plug. The tribe practices both agriculture and cattle herding.  Floodwaters must recede along the river’s banks before they will plant their crops.  Beehives are smoked out by the Bumi and they gorge themselves with the honey

Dassanech Tribe

Also known as the Galeb or Geleb, this tribe lives just north of Kenya’s Lake Turkana.  Their neighboring tribe is the Turkana people.  The Daasanech are pastoralists (cattle herders), but due to the harsh territory, they have moved south to grow crops and fish.  Cattle are used by the tribesman for meat, milk and clothing.  Often their cattle die from disease and drought.  For the reason that they inhabit inhospitable environment the Daasanech are the poorest tribes in the Omo Valley.

Because the Daasanech people come from multiple ethnic groups, both men and women must agree to be circumcised.  There are eight clans that make up the Daasanech tribe, each having its own name they are the Elele, Inkabelo, Inkoria, Koro, Naritch, Oro, Randal and the Ri’ele.  Each clan is defined by its territory with the Inkabelo being the wealthiest.

During a ceremony, the Dassanech men dance with large sticks and the women hold wooden batons.  A Daasanech man blesses his daughter’s fertility and future marriage by celebrating the Dimi.  During the Dimi 10 to 30 cattle are slaughtered.  Both men and women wear fur capes while they feast and dance.  A Dimi ceremony will most likely take place in the dry season.

Karo or Kara Tribe

The Karo or Karais a small, endangered omotic tribe with an estimated population between 1,000 and 3,000. They live along the east banks of the Omo River in southern Ethiopia and practice flood retreat cultivation.  The crops that are grown by them are sorghum, maize and beans.  Only small cattle are kept because of the tsetse flies.  These flies are large and consume the blood of vertebrate animals.
Like many of the tribes in the Omo, they paint their bodies and faces with white chalk to prepare for a ceremony.  The chalk is mixed with yellow rock, red iron ore and charoal to make its color.  Face masks are worn at times and they have clay hair buns with feathers in them.  Red clay mixed with butter is put into their hair and clothing is made from animal skin.  The women scar their chest believing it makes them beautiful. The men’s scars represent an enemy or dangerous animal killed.  They also wear clay hair buns which symbol a kill.  A man in the tribe can have as many wives as he wants, but must be able to afford them.  Most men will only marry two or three.

Suri or Surma Tribe

Suri, also known as the Surma people live in the southwestern plains of Ethiopia.  They raise cattle and farm when the land is fertile.  Cattle are important to the Suri, giving them status.  The more cattle a tribesman has, the wealthier they are. In order for a man to marry a woman in the Suri tribe, he must own at least 60 cattle.  Cattle are given to the family of the woman in exchange for marriage.  Like the other tribes, the Suri will use the milk and blood from the cow.  During the dry season, the people will drink blood instead of milk.  Blood can be drained from a cow once a month.  This is done by making a small incision in its neck.

The enigmatic peoples of the Surma life in the south of Ethiopia, due to their geographical isolation, they are able to maintain a unique and rich culture, living in a half nomadic existence in an almost terrestrial paradise. This proud people have a great sense for beauty and expression, their creativity shows itself in the intricate designs with which they – especially the men – decorate their own bodies to attract the other sex, for ceremonies and especially for the stick fighting donga, the foundation for complex and competitive social structure where the aim is to establish a champion or the encouragement of a collective hostility before attacking an enemy tribe. Married woman wear impressive big lip plates where the size is related to wealth.

The Surma have a macho culture, with an obsession for stick fighting called donga bringing great prestige to men – it is especially important when seeking a bride – and they are very competitive, at the risk of serious injury and occasional death. The males are often shaved bald, and frequently wear little or no clothes, even during stick fights.

At a young age, to beautify them for marriage, most women have their bottom teeth removed and their bottom lips pierced, then stretched, so as to allow insertion of a clay lip plate. Some women have stretched their lips so as to allow plates up to five inches in diameter. Their children are sometimes painted with white clay paint, which may be dotted on the face or body.

Village life is largely communal, sharing the produce of the cattle (milk and blood, as do the Maasai). Though their chief (styled komaro) wears the fur crown of a pagan priest-king, he is merely the most respected elder and can be removed. Few are familiar with Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia, and their literacy level is very low, the Surma are very peaceful, serene people who are in love with their own lifestyle. They believe that god has given them everything, and the cattle they own are probably the best in the world.

Every year after the harvest, Surma men and women enjoy a leisurely courtship period, spending days by the river, painting their bodies with beautiful designs to make themselves attractive to each other.

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