A Cultural Tour through Ethiopia's Omo Valley

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Africa » Ethiopia
November 17th 2005
Published: May 15th 2006
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Don't be fooledDon't be fooledDon't be fooled

These Hamer girls are not so shy. They are among the many whose chorus of "photo, photo" accompanied us throughout Turmi.
People organize themselves in every imaginable way. In the Konso villages of southern Ethiopia's Omo Valley, everything is close and inside. 7-foot thick neatly stacked stone walls surround entire villages, offering protection from hyenas and other outsiders. Narrow stone pathways wind between houses packed tightly together. Every so often, when the village is bursting at the seams, another wall is built around everything that has nestled up close outside the previous wall. In this way, concentric circles of community built around girls that carry and pound the grain, men that gather to tell the tales of elders and sort out the neighbors' conflicts, children that play and chat, and the huts that are perfectly thatched and topped with finials of clay.

A few miles down the road, the Tsemay villages feel more like little towns, with square houses arranged into a rough street grid. The most common item is the stool. Men carry them around wherever they go...just in case they need to sit, which they often do. We learned to do this waiting for transport to the next town...for 27 hours! And it was entertaining. For them and for us. They are very good at sitting on their little
Tsemay Diva Tsemay Diva Tsemay Diva

A typical Tsemay diva – sitting stool in one hand, photo payment in the other. The utility belt holds emergency bead and feather replacements. During our long hours waiting, we got to see these dudes rush to the mirror at the local bar to preen themselves for photos as each potential tourist-carrying vehicle arrived.
stools for hours on end. Jonathon is not. Another difference between Jonathon and these guys is that Mr. Kass does not look like a diva. Tsemay guys would be a big hit in the Castro. Long and lean. Short sarongs. And black leather utility belts slung over hips that sway just so.

The Banna in Key Afar spread out. Homes are scattered across the fields. No walls or gates to separate them. Just wide open space. The Banna homes are first for storing and processing grains and second for living. Or so it seems. Millet and sorghum and maize and cotton are stacked and hung and stored and ground. Not a bed in sight.

The Hamer people in Turmi may have had a traditional life style once, but now it's all about the show. Waves of tourists pass through town for the Tuesday market and the Hamer's job is to look beautiful. Those that live nearest the town have apparently abandoned all traditional subsistence activities and now make money posing for pictures and selling trinkets to faranjis like us. There are stolen moments of genuine experience and exchange - sharing a mat and a laugh over a cup
Konso TerracesKonso TerracesKonso Terraces

Terraces are omnipresent in the mountainous eastern side of the Omo region. They prevent soil erosion and increasing the area that can be farmed. From what we could see, these stacked stone walls also create a convenient spot to put all the rocks run into when you are preparing the soil for planting.
of coffee (and not paying for the privilege), or sharing whispers and giggles with women and their daughters. And it is fascinating and beautiful to see the artistry in their every-day lives. But there is a definite feeling of show about it. And preening for market day is a serious business. New braids and more beads fetch more tourist attention and thus more photos fees. We visited a few homes, soaked in the truly phenomenal market, wondered how it all was back in the day, and wandered out of town with the calls of young girls, “photo, photo” trailing off behind us.


Additional photos below
Photos: 28, Displayed: 24


Grinding MilletGrinding Millet
Grinding Millet

This Banna woman is grinding millet (or sorghum).
Teff ProcessionTeff Procession
Teff Procession

After marching through the central square with breathy percussive chants, farmers from a nearby Konso village return home with their harvest on their head.
The Konso Wall The Konso Wall
The Konso Wall

Wandering around the outer wall of a Konso village with a parade of local children large enough to disrupt any activity we happened upon.
Typical Konso roof topsTypical Konso roof tops
Typical Konso roof tops

This fine tradition takes all the sadness away from breaking a pot. "Don't worry, you didn't destroy the pot! You made a roof decoration!"
Isuzu SavioursIsuzu Saviours
Isuzu Saviours

These Isuzu trucks are the lifelines of the Omo Valley. They ply roads that no public transport dares pass. They are indestructible, and as you can see, accommodate a big load!
Tall and skinny, the Banna wayTall and skinny, the Banna way
Tall and skinny, the Banna way

A Banna dude, standing with his sorghum supplies. The dried stalks wrapped around the outside protect the sorghum tufts from hungry cattle.
The StoreroomThe Storeroom
The Storeroom

Domes of maize and unprotected sorghum, elevated to keep safe from critters.
Happy Isuzu UsHappy Isuzu Us
Happy Isuzu Us

Sunset Ride atop of a giant pile of maize sacks loaded on a Turmi-bound Isuzu Truck. These Isuzu truck were by far the safest, and fastest (apart from waiting) means of travel around the Omo, and the 360-degree views were unbeatable.
What a necklaceWhat a necklace
What a necklace

A girl at the Hammer village called “Take my photo, Dammit!” just outside Turmi. Note her necklace made of hypodermic needle caps.

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