Everytime you visit Africa, you feel like you’re back in motherland. Africa is the start of everything. It’s where the seeds of life spread and the nature makes you feel this all the time. It’s the land where you can experience the wild lives and birth circles ruled the pre-civilized world.
Ethiopia is the only country to have both a unique calendar and time. Year of 2007 was the millennium for Ethiopia. The country’s time is 7 years and 8 months behind the rest of the world. Even though the whole Christian world now uses Gregorian calendar, Ethiopia still uses Julian.
Clock is set around sunrise and sunset. 6 a.m. for us is 12 for them. At 6 p.m. the time is 12 again. To tell apart night and day, they usually tell the time as “3 at morning” or “3 at night”. All clocks of people, guides, towers were behind of us for 6 hours. Interesting thing is that nothing goes wrong and you keep living with your watch. Your guide tells the time adding 6 hours to his own time and it all goes well.
The country with its 85 million population, 83 ethnic tribes and hundreds of different languages offers you variety, colourfulness and different cultures. Tropical, hilly lands, lowlands and deserts, all together. As you move to south, you’re leaving behind the modern world to meet the archaic ages where people live half naked.
80 percent of the population lives on agriculture. Natives, who still uses traditional cultivators to collect crops, has to walk for miles and days to far towns where they can sell their products. Coffee is important for the Ethiopian as the first coffee in the world was grown by them. Later the coffee went to Arabic Peninsula then spread into whole world.
Omo Valley is the home of 760 kilometers long Omo River, located in Eastern Africa, and many tribes. These tribes live without any services, including electricity, telephone, television, internet. They live independently without the need of technology. Bearing differences of custom and tradition among each other, the tribes try to live in a very unlike and hard life. Omo Valley, being an UNESCO heritage site, draws attentions from the whole world thanks to its unusual characteristics. Almost like a colorful, bright, lively, spectacular collage, each tribe has its own language, belief, rituals, accessories, dances and rhythms.
One of the most popular tribes in the valley is Mursi tribe. In Mago National Park, located near the city of Jinka, estimated population of 7500 mursis live. Twice in a year, (once in summer and once in winter) they change their location. As you arrive in the Mursi village, kalashnikovs on the arms of Mursi men and women makes you a bit anxious. The anxiety is a right one as the guides warn you about the tribe’s temper and their drinker habits.
Major distinctive characteristic of Mursi, is that the plates or plaques on women’s lips. These plates are placed young women during the ages of 12 or 13. Lower lip is pierced and the hole if filled with placement of small cylindrical tap. Later the hole is widened until a plate fits into it. Size of the plate states the worth of the woman. Brideprice is calculated on this criteria. Plates are made of clay or wood. Two views are present on the origin of the practice. First one, it’s said that the women thought it made them look prettier, and the other is that was to avoid women being sold as slaves. Ethiopia’s old name was Abyssinia, meaning the country of slaves. People from all around the world was coming to buy slaves, and to avoid them choose women they started this practice and continued as a tradition. I guess no one would prefer to buy, as once the plates are removed their lips are dangling down to their necks.
As the sign of wealth is the possessed animals for Mursi, they feed on a mixture of milk and blood, instead of meat. Men, on the other hand, apply white dye or lime on their faces and bodies to create patterns. Coupling is determined with a contest between two men. Two men face each other with a stick called “donga” on their hands. Winner gets to choose a woman in a group and get married to her.
Origin based on the Sidamo nation, Hamers are pastoralist animal breeders. Around the number of 50000 Hamer lives in the east of Mago National Park in Omo Valley. Hamer Tribe stand out thanks to their ways of dressing. Especially, when you see women of Hamer, you’ll realise how interesting they are. They attract attention with their bronze colored hair. They apply red clay, water and butter on their hair as a cure. After they apply the mixture, they put beads on the tips of hair to make it even more attractive. Women are usually topless and wear colorful cloths around their waist. Neck, wrists, sleeves are decorated with garish accessories. Men, also, apply the same mixture on their hair and make a bun. To keep the bun they use small headrests while sleeping. Men also wear feathers to show their victories. These feathers are source of pride for them.
As for clothing, they only wear a piece of cloth like toga. They also carry spears and headrests. Just like women, they decorate their whole bodies with ornate jewels and metals. Polygamy is present as it is in the other Omo tribes. The very first married woman is the most precious one. So what’s there to tell apart the wives? First woman carries a big metal leather necklace called “kama” until she dies. Other wives only wear metal necklaces. People in tribe can only marry to someone within their tribe. To carry out the wedding, the groom has to give certain numbers of animal as bride price. Women and men are circumsized before the marriage.
BULL SKIPPING RITUAL
A very old tradition of Hamer Tribe, which is one of the oldest tribes in Southern Ethiopia, is men proving their power to tribe with skipping bulls. As the men grows old to a certain age to marry and get a certain title, they have to participate in the ceremony. Firstly, women show up with dancing and traditional songs. Meanwhile men drink corn beer called “sorgum”. To announce the ceremony, a young member of the tribe blows a pipe and call all Hamers to the ritual. As a symbol of the ritual, the whole body is painted with white dye.
During the ritual, the man who is going to skip over bulls is supported by his sister or mother. After blowing the horn, young man starts to whip the back of the woman. Later, other relatives come to join the whipping. Women are voluntary for being whipped as it’s a sign of honor and power. The more marks of whipping means the more value and respect. Strengthing the bonds of family, this ritual also strength the trust between the young man and the woman. The woman being whipped is later protected by the young man.
The main part of the ritual, skipping over bulls, makes the young man become one of the men of “maza” who are strong and have a higher status. The young man is required to skip over 10-30 bulls hold by “maza” ben. Young man have to be fully naked and jump successfully four times before falling. If the attempt succeeds, the young man can marry and gets a social status. After the ceremony, bride price is paid in a number of animals to bride’s family. The couple gets married with drinking the mixture of cow blood and milk. If the young man fails and falls, he is whipped by the women and has to wait for a year, for another ceremony.
JINKA VE KARO TRIBE
There almost 3000 members of Karo tribe lives in Omo Valley. Kabo has one of the largest populations among the tribes in that area. Their land is very fertile and pretty. They grow sorghum, corn and beans. They prefer ovine breeding and the reason for that is tsetse fly. This fly causes sleep illness and Ethiopian tribes have to take measure. Just like the other tribes women of Karo are topless and wear leather skirts. They apply water, butter and red clay on their hair. Men are notable for their beaded buns. It’s very interesting that they pierce their chins and put colorful sticks in. Wearing feathers and marks on the bodies are also the symbols of victory and social status, just like the other tribes in Omo Valley.
Tattoos have different purposes on men and women. A Karo woman uses tattoo for beauty while a men uses it as a show of strength. Called as knifing, this style of tattooing is about peeling the skin off with a razor, then placing ash there. Purpose for this is to make the skin get infected and bloat out. Before the dance ceremonies, all the people paints their bodies with clay and chalk. Face is painted with black, red, yellow and white patterns. Dance figures resembles of Masai’s. Men try to jump the highest then women come and choose the proper man for herself. As the reason of the dance is to make couples, the ceremony is done during fullmoon. Men carry sticks called “donga” and pillow made of trees. These sticks can only be used by those who have the courage consent of tribe council.
Living in a colder area, the people of dorze lives almost everyday in mist. Dorze Tribe is famous among the others. They live on cotton weaving. They are still trying to develop themselves. Thanks to their cotton weaving cooperative, they earn their keep and keep their fame. What differentiate them is their cotton clothes and the houses resembling of bee hives. The people of Dorze grows vegetables, fruits, spices and tobacco. The most important thing for the may be the fake banana tree. Fruits and roots are used for nutrition. Leaves and bamboos are used for housing. Houses are two floored and average 6 meters long. As they live in a high area, they use do terracing method for agriculture. Men do cotton weaving and building houses. Meanwhile, women collect woods, spin cotton and cook.
Recognized as one of the richest tribes, the people of Konso is famous for their colorful cloths and pleated skirts. The tribe lives on the hilly regions of Ethiopia and has a population of 250000. They place rocks on the land to create living spaces. As they live in the area between Northern Ethiopia and Omo Valley, they are seen as a trading wing. As they have a better watering system and use the method of terracing, they live better lives. Sorghum, corn, cotton, coffee and bean. Population of each village is almost 1500. Konso tribe is governed by the elderly men. Both for adolescent men and elders who killed enemy and animal, monuments named “waga” are built.
Living in the Southwest of Omo Valley, Arbore tribe, is one of the interesting tribes with their dances, clothes and traditions. Women are topless. They wear garish necklaces. On the lower parts they wear animal leather skirts with beads. They also wear metal bangles on their ankles. There’s a method to tell apart married and single women. Single women shave their hair and the married ones don’t.
Necklaces and jewels are very important for Arbore tribe. In polygamy, the first wife wears a thin necklace and later wives wear bigger ones. They paint their faces with ash completely or as points. Just like the other tribes, sense of beauty is mostly about ravish dyes, beads and accessories. They live on farming and husbandry. They trade with bartering. Women use a cover to protect from sun and kids make themselves hats. Animal teeth and bones are used as necklaces.