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The Lower Omo Valley

The Lower Omo Valley is a spectacularly beautiful area with various ecosystems including grasslands and one of the few remaining pristine, riverine forests in semi-arid Africa. These ecosysyems support a wide variety of wildlife. In the same areathere are volcanic projections of various phases.

The ancient tribes in the Omo Valley still retain their culture and traditions as their villages are relatively inaccessible.  You will witness ancient cultures except the culture is to disappear slowly but surely, in part because of effects of tourism. Over 16 diverse tribes reside following the Omo river bank. The Omo river bisects Ethiopia’s largest and wildest national parks, Mago and Omo (Mui) national parks and finally drained into Lake Turkana. 

The Mursi, Bodi (Me’en), Daasanach, Kara (or Karo), Kwegu (or Muguji) and Nyangatom live along the Omo and depend on it for their livelihood, having developed complex socio-economic and ecological practices intricately  adapted to the harsh and often unpredictable conditions of the region’s semi-arid climate. Other peoples, such as the Bana, Hamar, Maji, Chai, or Suri( Surma) and Turkana, live further from the river but a network of inter-ethnic alliances means that they too can access the flood plains, especially in times of scarcity. The annual flooding of the Omo River and its tributaries like the Neri and Magao river feeds the rich biodiversity of the region and guarantees the food security of the tribes especially as rainfall is low and inconsistent. 

They depend on it to practice ‘flood retreat cultivation’ using the rich silt left along the rivers banks by the slowly receding waters. They also practice rainfed, shifting cultivation growing sorghum, maize and beans on the flood plains. Some tribes, particularly the Kwegu, hunt game and fish from such rivers. 

What makes particularly, the Omo Valley so unique is that nowhere else on the earth does so many genetically and linguistically diverse people live as traditionally and in such a small space. 

Cattle, goats, and sheep are vital to most tribes’ livelihood producing blood, milk, meat and hides. Cattle are highly valued and used in payment for bride wealth. For instance in the Mursi tribe, the girl’s lip plate attracts the attention of the young men of the tribe, making the girl’s dowry of cattle or livestock larger, up to 35 heads of cows. 

In the tribes of the lower Omo Valley, as pastoralists they are, in certain seasons families travel to satellite camps to provide new pasture and grazing for herds.The Bodi sing poems to their favorite cattle; Young Karo and  Hamar boys are used  decorating their bodies with white ash;  Hamar women blowing their horns and shouting taunts to the Maza men who will whip them. These women regard the scars as a proof of devotion to their relative to whom they have been whipped during the procession of his rite of passage, like in time of the bull jumping ceremonies. In some tribes like the Mursi and Surma, the lip plate is one of the more famous of the tribes’ traditions. The Mursi women known to put on plates of clay or wood on their lower lips that is as big as 15 cm in diameter.  Generally speaking the men, women, and children here, in lower Omo area ritually adorn themselves to express status and tribal identity, sculpting their hair with animal fat and clay, scarifying limbs and upper bodies, wearing jewelry of beads, bone, and metal, and painting their entire bodies with white minerals, black charcoals, and red and yellowish-brown.Such popular customs and of course still-authentic rituals such as bull jumping, Evangadi, folkdances and gladiatorial stick fighting attracts many photographers and curious travelers from all corners of the earth. 

Safari tours in Omo Valley, Ethiopia, the remote corner of Africa.

 The Lower Omo Valley: Peoples, Tribes and Market Days 

Safari tours in Ethiopia are a very popular and unique. You will experience and see things found nowhere else in the world. A tour to the lower Omo Valley usually begins from Addis Ababa and continues through the Great East African Rift Valley. You can have a stop at  each of the Ethiopian Rift Valley Lakes on your way to the Lower Omo tribal sites. Such as Lake Ziway, Langano, Abiyatta, Shalla, Hawassa, Abaya and Lake Chamo. Whilst on your tour, in addition to the safaris at  various tribal villages, you will also definitely have the chance  to explore the Nechsar National park, Omo National Park and the Mago National Park depending on your timetable. 

As there are  several villages to visit on your journey through Omo Valley, You should try to meet the market days  where you will most likely see many different tribes at one place. But your day to day program should be planned ahead of time in such a way that itinerary should coincide with the market days of each tribe’s village. 

When is the best time to travel to the lower Omo Valley? 

These days it is possible to plan a trip to the south of Ethiopia/Omo valley almost at any time of the year as the roads have improved. However June to early October is believed to be the best time because it is harvesting time and many celebrations like the bull jumping and the stick fighting are taking place.