The Tribes of the Omo Valley

  • Hamer women dancing

    The Lower Omo Valley in southern Ethiopia is home to some of the last remaining traditional tribes in the world, still living according to their ancient rituals, customs, and traditions, and clinging to a way of life that has all but disappeared elsewhere.  Bull jumping festivals are celebrated by the Hamer tribe, where men jump bulls to enter manhood, and the women dance to celebrate this coming of age.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Hamer young woman getting her face painted

    Omo is now easier accessed by tourists who get a fascinating peek into an exotic world which could disappear.  Ornate face painting is done by all tribes, here with a Hamer young lady getting her makeup done at a festival.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Karo tribal chief

    Leopard spots, zebra stripes, and other animal motifs are used in the body painting. This Karo tribe chief proudly displays his above the Omo River.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Karo girls face painting

    Karo women engage in some of the most elaborate face painting and body decoration.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Mursi woman in front of her hut

    The Mursi are the most famous residents of the Omo, due to their woman, who wear lip plates, considered a sign of beauty amongst the tribe.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Mursi boy with watch band jewellery

    Watch bands, soft drink cans, bottle caps, and other modern throwaways are often used as tribal jewellery.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Dassanech women in their village on the Omo River

    The Dassanech women adorn themselves with pelts and skins made from wild animals the men have killed, such as hyena, lion, and more.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Dassanech crossing the Omo River with dugout canoe

    Traditional dugout canoes are still used to travel on the Omo River.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Hamer women, with their ochre clay body and hair makeup, are some of the most visually appealing tribes in the Omo Valley.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Arbore teen and her beads

    The Arbore live away from the Omo River and are pastoralists. Their women adorn themselves in bead necklaces.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • A young Arbore boy shows off his paint job

    face painting is seen as a way of protecting children from bad spirits.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Hamer boys painting their faces

    In addition to superstition and ritual, body and face painting and clay adornment serves as natural sunblock for the time spent outdoors in the heat.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Mursi woman with her lip plate, Mago National Park

    When a Mursi woman reaches womanhood (around 18-19), a slit is cut below her lower lip, and the resulting gap fitted with a small plate which then stretches the lip. As time passes, larger plates are inserted, and the greater the plate, the higher the worth a woman’s family can fetch when she marries.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • old Kalashnikov rifles are commonly found in the Omo, used to protect cattle and sometimes in tribal warfare.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Hamer woman drinking coffee

    Large hollowed gourds are used by Hamer women not only as hats, but also to drink buna, the strong local coffee that is a major part of social gatherings.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Hamer woman with straw bundle at a weekly market

    Weekly markets in the Hamer villages of Dimeka and Turmi bring tribes from all around, offering a chance to barter and trade, buy essentials, and socialize. 

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Hamer women celebrating at a bull jumping festival

    The communal and social element of Hamer life is strong, each village keeps closely knit ties through daily interaction and plenty of rituals that aim at celebrating and bonding.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Hamming it up with the tourists

    Tourism is now a big part of the Omo, with intrepid visitors coming to see the different tribes as infrastructure in terms of roads and transport comes to this remote region.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Curious Hamer children and photographer

    Who knows what the future of the Omo will be in terms of tourism or other, but for now it remains a fascinating interaction between all parties involved.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis


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