Photo Story: Tribes of Omo Valley, Ethiopia

To travel miles after miles in order to be with those exotic, rare and exclusive tribes in the remote corners of Ethiopia, is like a distant dream. With breathtaking landscapes, forest and famous Omo river, the southern part of Ethiopia is undoubtedly a promising land for many. Specially, the Lower Omo Valley is a dauntingly beautiful area with well spread grasslands, volcanic sights, and flourishing variety of wildlife. In 1980, UNESCO declared the lower Omo Valley a World Heritage Site for its uniqueness. When it comes to Omo Valley, attraction does not necessarily include landscapes, rather the inhabitants of this inaccessible valley. The ochre-skinned Hamer, the lip-plated Mursi, and the beautifully painted Karo tribes are amongst them. Untouched by time, Omo valley flaunts unlikely customs and authentic traditions such as bull jumping and stick fighting which attracts a lot of tourists and travellers now a days.

The noted photographer Mr. Bharat Patel, had travelled to the Omo valley to explore its cultural landscape, the varied rituals, customs and undoubtedly the haunting traditions of these exotic tribes in the smallest part of the land. His trip to the Omo Valley made him experience the boat ride in Omo River, sampling local cuisines like “Injera” made from “teff” flour, camping next to Arbore Village and most importantly, the rare opportunity of living those moments with the tribal communities were the highlights of his trip. He has brought back everything beautifully through his breathtaking photographs. This photo story will give you a glimpse of the lifestyle of these tribal communities specially Mursi, Karo, Hamar and Arbore.

Mursi Tribe

Mursi Woman

Mursi tribe is one of the prominent tribes from this part of the valley. This tribe is world famous for its women who wear a clay disc in their lower lip. One of most photogenic tribes in the world, Mursi women are supposed to wear this disc at the age of 15. Initially a small disc is inserted in the lower part of the lip, which gradually increases in size year after year until it reaches a dramatic 10 inches in diameter. They have been practicing this custom for centuries. Interestingly, size of the disc determines the price of the woman’s dowry. Here dowry means the number of cattle the bride’s family will receive from the groom’s family. Cattle are their currency.

Mursi Woman Feeding Child

Cattle are highly valued and used as payment for bride’s wealth. It not only provides meat, milk and leather for their clothing but the number of cattle also acts as a measure of their true wealth. They protect their animals at any cost and avoid slaughtering them. The life is tough in this rugged part of the country side. But it becomes difficult in the dry season when the Mursi people prefer to live near Omo River. The Mursi tribe is said to be expert in body painting. The men generally paint their bodies with mud to attract women. The Mursi are famous for their stick-fighting ceremony.

Hamar Tribe

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They are called pastoralists. Cattle-raiding is a part of their lifestyle and their livelihood highly depends on them. For Hamar, the wealth is measured by the number of cattle they posses and also contribute highly in their social status. The young men spend the year far away from their villages, in those distant grazing camps near the Omo River . They live a simple life of hunting, raising cattle and growing sorghum along the banks of the River Omo.

Hamar Man

Hamar man is responsible to protect his cattle herd from enemy or wild animal and if someone fails to do so, it shatters his reputation in the community. They have to go through a constant struggle of making a livelihood and keeping intact their honour in the Omo Valley. One of the distinguished ceremonies which make this tribe stand apart from other tribes is their famous Bull Jumping ceremony, wherein the Hamar boy has to jump and leap over several bulls.

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Hamar women wear intricately designed beautiful scars on their bodies like their male counterpart. They consider it beautiful to have it on their bodies. It also signifies that women with scars are strong. Hamar women give a lot of importance to their hair treatment as well. They roll their locks with fat and red ochre. Then twist them into coloured dreads,which is called Goscha. Apparently, Hamar men find it very attractive. Married and engaged women wear two heavy iron rings around their necks and cover their body with two pieces of goat skin called “Kashi”.

Karo Tribe

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They are one of the smallest tribes in this region. Karo tribe mainly dwells on the eastern banks of the Omo River.  They are mainly an agriculturalist group, who practice flood-retreat cultivation, growing sorghum, maize and beans. They also do fishing and raise livestock.

The distinguished feature of Karo tribe is their unconquerable skills in body and face painting. They decorate their bodies with intricate designs to look good and also intimidate their enemies. They use red ochre, while chalk, yellow mineral rock, and charcoal to paint their bodies. The Karo men also have scars on their bodies which symbolises the courageous side of their personality.The hairstyles and headdresses of Karo men are another interesting part of their personality. If a man wears a grey and red-ochre clay hair bun with an Ostrich feather, it simply indicates that he has bravely killed an enemy from another tribe or an animal, like a lion or leopard.

Karo Men

Karo men carry guns to protect their livestock, which symbolises their social status as well. Every Karo family owns two houses which are called Ono and Gappa. Ono is the principal living room of the family, whereas the Gappa is the centre of several household activities.

Arbore Tribe

Arbore Woman

The Arbore tribe is a small tribal community who lives in the southern part of the Omo Valley. They have a strong cultural and ancestral relationship with Borenna and Konso people. They are known for their singing and dancing rituals. According to Arbore tribe, by singing and dancing, they can eliminate negative energy which leads to prosperity of their community. What makes this tribal community apart from the others is their belief in high spiritual status. Because of which Arbore priest is considered a highly respected spiritual person.

Arbore Family

Arbore women love to wear those colourful rich ornaments of beads and metal. Interestingly, Arbore women can be identified by their unique beads.The unmarried girls of this tribe shave their heads completely and cover them with a piece of black cloth which apparently protects them from the sun.

 Arbore Children

Though the married Arbore women don’t do it, they tie their hair in short tight braids. The men wrap their heads with white cloth.

Omo valley of Ethiopia is undoubtedly a land of  many unheard tales . The tales of exotic and rare tribal communities, their lifestyle, many unlikely customs , traditions and social practices. Untouched by modernization, time seems irrelevant for these tribes in Omo Valley. 


About The Photographer

Being a network design engineer by profession, Mr. Bharat Patel travels a lot across countries. His passion for photography started when he joined a photography club in Oxford. He specialises in portrait photography. Capturing lives of those surviving at the edges of societies make him stand apart. Mr. Patel focuses on Black & White portraits where he tries to show the hardships endured by people around the world each day. Capturing mood, emotions and the environment are the most important elements in his photography. According to him, the art of photography is to capture the moment in a way that plays with a multitude of emotions in the viewer.

Apart from earning a lot of awards for his excellent work across the world, his work has also been exhibited in galleries in the UK.

To know more, kindly visit: www.bharatpatelphotography.co.uk

Facebook Page : https://www.facebook.com/bharatpatelphotos/


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30 Replies to “Photo Story: Tribes of Omo Valley, Ethiopia”

  1. Hi Parnashree.
    How are you?
    Came over to your blog after seeing your post on Indiblogger.
    We are a married couple from Mumbai, very new to blogging.
    What an awesome post you have written on these tribes. What is the meaning of Omo? Loved the pics.
    Hope to see you at our blog, with your comment on my latest post.
    Best wishes and regards.
    Vee N Ric

  2. Hi Vee N Ric , Thank you so much for your lovely words. Omo is the name of river and after which this valley was named. This valley is located in the southern part of Ethiopia. One of remote area where you can meet these tribes.

  3. Hi Parnashree, Thank you for the writing this blog. It has been great to work with you. Brilliant account of the Omo Valley and it people. I must organise a trip and go there again sometime. Any readers interested in seeing this exiting place could get in touch with me.
    Best Regards.
    Bharat
    Bharat Patel recently posted…Omo Tribal PortraitsMy Profile

    1. Thank you for these breathtaking pictures of Omo valley. And it was a great collaboration with you .

    2. I would love to go there Bharat & Parnashree.

      1. Thank you Anuradha ma’am . This is my dream too .

  4. Wonderful post.. Great to know about these tribes.. thanks for sharing

    1. Thank you so much . Keep following my journey:)

  5. Parnashree, speechless! What a wonderful write up. And must admit, outstanding photography work by Mr. Bharat Patel. And about the Mursi tribe- oh my god! Is it real? Do they really wear those plates? Isn’t it painful? This world is such a diverse and unique place, with so many indigenous tribes. They must be protected! And I am so glad that, inspite of all the globalization and development stories, they have remained in tact!

    1. Thank you Deepika. The lifestyle, rituals, and traditions of these tribes are fascinating. I was mesmerised knowing about them. They are exotic and must be protected for sure.

  6. Stunning photographs. What a unique opportunity to be able to spend time with these tribes.

  7. Loved reading about these tribes. It was like a different world to me. I had never heard of Omo valley. Great Pictures for sure!!

    1. Thanks Manjulika. These tribes are fascinating .

  8. It’s the best time to make some plans for the future and
    it’s time to be happy. I’ve read this post and if I could I want to suggest you few
    interesting things or tips. Perhaps you can write next articles referring to this article.
    I wish to read more things about it!
    Kristen recently posted…KristenMy Profile

    1. Hi Kristen,

      Thank you for Kristen for your lovely words. I would love to have your suggestions.You can write to me at traveldiaryparnashree@gmail.com

  9. Just like the National Geographic articles of old…it’s amazing to me that there can still be tribes so untouched by modern life! It’s difficult to decide if it’s good or not, to be without modern amenities.
    Tami recently posted…The Best Dinosaur MuseumMy Profile

    1. Thank you Tami. The fact is that these tribes are still living in their own world .

  10. This is lovely! I would love to photograph the tribes someday too…

    1. Thanks Siddharth. I would love spend some days there to explore more about their lifestyle.

  11. The tribal culture and people have always fascinated me and sparked curiosity in me to know more about them. Bharat Patel has clicked such amazing pictures, I am left with wonder and amazement. The cultures of the tribes have been described so beautifully. A beautiful read.
    Sandy N Vyjay recently posted…How to Give Shape to Your Dreams and Design Your Dream HomeMy Profile

  12. i have been to few parts of Kenya. the photo series is so amazing… its like every image has a story of its own..

  13. What gorgeous photos! The people are just beautiful. Such an amazing experience it must have been to photograph them. It’s so fascinating that they are still living the way their ancestors used to!

  14. Your photos are really powerful! It’s like we’ve stepped back in time. Thanks for sharing noted photographer Mr. Bharat Patel’s work!

  15. These pictures are stunning! I liked learning about the people of the Omo Valley. It must have been an amazing experience!

  16. I love this piece. In so many ways, it reminds me of reading National Geographic as a kid. I think all of my most powerful travel dreams originated in the yellow bindings of that magazine. You photographs were stunning, but you gave the perfect amount of information and backstory to give them context and really allow them to resonate. Well done.
    Jenn and Ed Coleman recently posted…Finding Zen With Zion GuruMy Profile

  17. What a dream to visit these far away lands and be able to witness these cultures with our own eyes. The photography is incredible. The tribes and their customs amazing. I felt like I was there or reading one of the National Geographic magazines I liked collecting as a child. Incredible.

  18. Africa had been one my dream destinations. Looking at all these photos makes me want to go there even more. It’s amazing to learn how so many tribes there are in Omo Valley.

  19. I find reading about tribes such as these so interesting. They’re so different from the way most of us live today that it’s almost unfathomable, like they exist is another world. The face and body painting of the Karo tribe is remarkable!!

  20. Wow, that was so explanatory! The world has so much. It was really interesting reading your post, but I got to say, the pictures really made a difference. It must be such an experience to see the valley and these tribes.

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