The town of Arba Minch serves as a gateway to the Konso and the South Omo Region, and it lies at the entrance to the Nechsar National Park, which protects parts of the two lakes (Chamo and Abaya), the mountainous Egzer Dildiy (‘Bridge of God’) that divides them, a forest close to town, and the White– grass Nechsar plans on the opposite shore.
NechSar National Park
The park is located 500 km for Addis Ababa on the main route to Lower Omo. It is known to shelter more than 100 large and small mammals, 350species of
birds, 25 species of fishes and over 100 species of vascular plants.
This relatively small area tucked away at the Ethio-Kenyan border is a cultural and biodiversity hotspot sheltering several cultures, ethnicities and nations which coexist peacefully despite huge differences in language, tradition and lifestyle. Four of Africa’s language groups (including the Omotic language group which is endemic to South Omo) can be found in the region which is believed by many to have been a crossroad for different migrating ethnic groups for thousands of years and to this day the people of the Lower Omo Valley, including the Mursi, Suri, Nyangatom, Dizi and Me’en, are studied for their diversity.
The administrative center of the South Omo Zone is Jinka, a somewhat isolated market town situated at an altitude of 1,490 meters above sea level which possesses both rural and urban characteristics. It has a large Saturday market which traders from all over the region congregate to, but the main attraction within the town is the German-funded South Omo Research Center and Museum whose exhibits are mostly anthropological in nature providing very interesting insights into the cultures of the people of South Omo.
The Karo people number only 3,000. They mainly live on the practice of flood retreat cultivation on the banks of the Omo River in South-Western Ethiopia. The Karo excel in spectacular face and body painting; often the decorations imitate the spotted plumage of the guinea fowl. Feather plumes are inserted in their clay hair buns to complete the look. The clay hair bun can take up to three days to construct and is usually remade every three to six months. Body painting and hair decoration are done in preparation for ceremonies and dances.
Karo women beautify themselves by scarring their torsos with a razor blade. Ash is then rubbed in to produce a raised welt. The Karo are faced with direct threats to their existence from neighboring tribes with larger populations and more weapons.
The Hamer people inhabit the territory east of the Omo River; their main settlements are in Turmi and Dimeka.
The Hamer are semi-nomadic pastorals migrating every few months to find new pastures for goats and cattle. Their huts are round and conical made from a frame of branches covered with grasses, mats and hides. A village consists of about 20 huts surrounding a meeting place where dancing and feasting occurs, plus a cattle and goat pen. The Hamer often trade with their neighbors for sorghum and corn as they do not cultivate it themselves. Sorghum is made into a pancake or porridge and eaten with a stew. Men typically wear a checkered skirt of cloth while women wear a leather loin cloth.
The Hamer also practice body scarring. Some of the women wear circular wedge necklaces indicating that they are married. Very colorful bracelets and beads are worn in their hair and around their waists and arms. Engaged and married women have hair dyed with a red soil and goat grease paste.
The traditional bull jumping is a rite of passage for men coming of age and must be done before a man is permitted to marry. The bull jumping event lasts three days and involves only castrated cattle. The completely nude man must jump over a line of 10 to 30 bulls four times without falling. This symbolizes the departure of his childhood. Prior to the ceremony, the women of the tribe provoke the men to whip them on their bare backs. The resultant scars are a symbol of devotion to the men and are encouraged by the tribe. Night dancing called Evangadi is also a Hamer tradition.
The Mursi are primarily pastorals. The Mursi women wear lip plates and earrings that they make from locally dug clay. The women make the form the wet clay into plates, color them with charcoal and then bake in a fire. The plates are considered as signs of beauty. The bigger the lip plate, the more beautiful she is. The men are naked and have the same kind of stick fighting as the Surma.
The Surma, like the Mursi, are well known for their deadly stick fighting. The men paint their bodies with a mixture of chalk and water before the fight. Surma women, like Mursi women, wear lip plates. In her early twenties an unmarried woman’s lower lip will be pierced and then progressively stretched over the period of a year. A clay disc indented like a pulley wheel is squeezed into the hole in the lip.
The Bodi live north of Mursi territory. The Bodi celebrate the New Year every June, in a celebration called Ka’el. The celebration includes a body fat contest. The amount of body fat achieved indicates years of good eating and comforts. One has to drink only blood and milk to become fat enough to compete. Each of the clans presents presents two or three contestants. The winner gets great fame for his family and clan. This ceremony has deep social significance in the Bodi culture.
The Arbore people are primarily Islamic in religion. They live west of the Woito river. They speak different languages such as Arbore, Oromiffa and Tsemay, but Konso is the lingua franca in this area.
The Arbore are well known for body painting. They use natural colors made of soil and stone from the surrounding areas.
In the space of a few square miles, there are four large Arbore villages, Jellifa, Egudi, Gula'ma and Gondara'ba, the last being their main center and the residence of their paramount chief. The Arbore are very active traders. In the past, they used to have a monopoly on the ivory trade. The Arbore build their huts slightly oval in shape.
The Ari people inhabit the northern part of the Mago National Park 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 jewellery 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.