Lower Valley of the Omo

The Omo River (also called Omo-Bottego) in southern Ethiopia is the largest Ethiopian river outside the Nile Basin. Its course is entirely contained within the boundaries of Ethiopia, and it empties into Lake Turkana on the border with Kenya. The river is the principal stream of an endorheic drainage basin, the Turkana Basin.

This southwestern corner of Ethiopia is home to seven primary tribes who coexist with varying degrees of peace. The land is largely dry savanna, with the Omo River cutting a nearly 475-mile-long swath down to Lake Turkana on the Kenya border. The discovery of human remains dating back nearly 2.5 million years prompted Unesco to dub the Lower Valley a World Heritage site in 1980. The aage-oldsedimentary deposits in the Lower Omo Valley are now world renowned for the discovery of many hominid fossils, that have been of fundamental importance in the study of human evolution.

The Lower Omo Valley includes the Konso and Fejej paleontological research locations with sedimentary deposit going back to the PalioPleistocene period. These have produced numerous hominid and animal fossils, including fragments of Australopithecus. The deposits of human vertebrae fauna and paleoenvironmental evolution shed light on the earliest stages of the origins and development of Homo sapiens of Africa. The discoveries of ancient stone tools in an encampment also offers evidence of the oldest known technical activities of prehistoric beings, thus making the property one of the most significant for mankind.

To ensure Omo’s position as the yardstick against which all other ancient deposits in East Africa are measured, researched evidence from the site has established bio-stratigraphical, radiometric and magneto-stratigraphical scales spanning between one and 3.5 million years.

Since 1966, scientific research has proved that the site significantly contributes to prominent archaeological, geological, paleo-anthropological and paleo-environmental studies.

The site is of immense importance for its hominid fossils, which have contributed immeasurably to our understanding of human origins. These fossils include the remains of Homo gracilis and Australopithecines, as well as the earliest known bone fragments of Homo sapiens, dating from 195,000 years ago.  In addition, there are rich beds of other mammal fossils.

The customs and lifestyles of isolated pastoral communities have changed little in centuries. One of the major tribe in the Omo Valley is the Hamar people (known for their bull-jumping ceremonies and where the women curl and color their hair with ochre clay and butter), Hamer also well known as the hamer or hammer is one of the most known tribes in southwestern Ethiopia. They inhabit the territory east of the Omo River and have villages in Turmi and Dimeka. They are a semi-nomadic, pastoral people, numbering about 42 000.

Honey collection is their major activity and their cattle is the meaning of their life. They will stay for a few months wherever there is enough grass for grazing, putting up their round huts. When the grass is finished, they will move on to new pasture grounds. This is the way they have been living for generations. Once they hunted, but the wild pigs and small antelope have almost disappeared from the lands in which they live; and until 20 years ago, all plowing was done by hand with digging sticks. The land isn’t owned by individuals; it’s free for cultivation and grazing, just as fruit and berries are free for whoever collects them. The Hamar move on when the land is exhausted or overwhelmed by weeds.

The Hamar have very unique rituals such as a bull-leaping ceremony, that a young man has to succeed in order to get married. A Hamar man comes of age by leaping over a line of cattle as an initiation rite of passage. It’s the ceremony which qualifies him to marry, own cattle and have children. The timing of the ceremony is up to the man’s parents and happens after harvest. As an invitation, the guests receive a strip of bark with a number of knots – one to cut off for each day that passes in the run up to the ceremony. Cows are lined up in a row. The initiate, naked, has to leap on the back of the first cow, then from one bull to another, until he finally reaches the end of the row. He must not fall of the row and must repeat successfully the test four times to have the right to become a husband. While the boys walk on cows, Hamar women accompany him: they jump and sing. They have several days of feasting and drinking sorghum beer in prospect.

The Omi tribe who have some of the world’s most unique and radical body modifications. With everything from tribal war paint to lip piercings the size of dinner plates, his stunning gallery shows some of the world’s most unique and radical body modifications. This body paint is commonly worn like make-up among women, with more ornate painting done for special events like weddings and parties.

The Omi express their mood in their facial expressions. It is very easy for the Omi to tell how they are feeling. The Omi do not see the point in trying to hide anything, so why would they will their emotions? Most of the Omi do not bother the others until they are ready to explain why they are happy, mad or sad. Not saying anything until the person is ready is nonverbally communicated as well because they do not want to start rumors or lies that could potentially harm the community.

When is comes to the beliefs of the Omi, they have dances. It is either dances of praise, welcoming, and dances of prophecy – the dances turn out either good (movements are kept light and airy, graceful) or bad (movements are big and overwhelming) when they are trying to see what will happen in the future.

The Bodi or Me’en people are a semi-nomadic tribe of mainly livestock farmers and agriculturalists who revere their cattle. They are a proud tribe who have been able to preserve their ancient cultures despite the modern world and civilization. The mysterious tribe still engage in barter trade system.

One of the mind-boggling traditions that still persist is the Fat Man contest during the Ka’el ceremony where every family is expected to produce a man to compete to be the fattest man of the year. The contest begins six months earlier in June. After the men to compete are chosen, they must retire to their huts and must not move or have sex for the duration of the six months. The men gorge on an unusual cow’s blood and milk mixture in a bid to bulk up to be crowned the fattest man.

On the day of the Kaél ceremony, the Bodi’s new year’s celebration, the contest commences with the men parading men their newly engorged physiques and for a winner to be chosen. On the day itself, the men cover their bodies with clay and ashes before emerging from their huts for the walk to the spot where the ceremony will take place.

Daasanach people (the most southerly of the tribes who live in Ethiopia’s Omo Valley, Karo people (known for painting their faces and bodies with white chalk, red ochre, yellow mineral rock and black charcoal) and Mursi people (known for the lip plates and outrageous headdresses worn mostly by elderly women).



Africa world heritage site