Turmi - Day 6 of 10 - Omo Valley Trip

Trip Start Jun 24, 2005
Trip End Nov 01, 2005

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Saturday, October 8, 2005

Drove 2 hours to the town of Dimeka for their weekly Saturday market of the Hamar people. Our tour company had planned the stops of our trip to maximize opportunities like this for seeing markets and festivals, etc. This market is a really interesting and enjoyable experience because for some reason they don't need to pester us for photos, etc. other than to occasionally offer to sell us things. Oddly, we are approached often by Hamar people and asked to break a 100Br note. Makes us think that being paid 1-2Brs per photo is not their primary income? That would be good.

The market is sectioned into areas selling firewood, tobacco, honey, butter (not our kind of butter, but a rancid looking concoction the women put on their hair), cloth, goats/cows, fabric, household items, tribal wear, etc.

One smart little boy speaks English well and explains to me the various parts of the market. He says he lives in the quite substantial mud brick house near the river. Says his mother is a nurse and his father is a teacher.

Garry and I split a lunch of injera, the national dish. Injera is typically a selection of cooked meats and vegetables which are served on a big thick round pancake; as big as a large pizza. It should be eaten by breaking off an edge piece of the pancake and dipping/scooping the cooked food with it. It's a very practical dish for a resource poor country because it can be eaten without cutlery and individual plates. Today's injera is boiled meats and vegetables. The meat is simply too tough to get down. Vegetables are mainly potato and a little carrot.

We see quite a few men who have shaved the front half of their head and on the back half they have a 'skull cap' looking creation with a feather decorating the top. Though to us these have a strangely "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" resemblance, they are apparently quite the opposite. The only men who are allowed to wear this feathered adornment are those who have accomplished a major feat for their tribe or people (such as killing an enemy or otherwise protecting their tribe). After learning that fact we thought it best not to make any more jokes about these feathered blokes. 

In the afternoon, we are going to see a "jumping the bulls" ceremony. A local Hamar man wants to get married and his tribe requires he perform this feat before he is considered worthy (man enough) for his bride. We drive to quite a remote village in a gorgeous setting overlooking the Omo Valey and surrounding mountains. About 30 tourists attend each paying 100Br (A$17). We sit right amongst the tribal people on goat skins on the ground under a trellis covered in freshly cut branches that makes a shady audience 'grandstand'.

In front of the grandstand, women and girls sing and dance -- hop around really; don't picture a co-ordinated group type dance. Some wear jingle bells below their knees to add music. The dancing show stops but the women seated among us continue to sing, one after another. A boy tells me they sing to call the cows/bulls. One woman walks around and smears the backs of all the tribal women with any oily solution. At one point I have women seated on all three sides of me, each suckling a baby; one of them squealing her song to the crowd at the top of her lungs. I'm feeling like this is the real deal....not a Disney re-creation.

The ceremony goes on like this for hours. Seriously monotonous, though to be fair one must consider this is not a tourist spectacle, it is a marriage rite.

They make some giant urns of coffee. Coffee originated in Ethiopia and coffee ceremonies are an important part of life here.

They perform a 'whipping ceremony' where the eligible males whip the eligible females with slender tree branches. The whipping is disturbing for us westerners and even the Ethiopian government would like to put an end to it. But it is a tribal tradition and the women believe they must be properly whipped or they have not properly proven their subjugation to the men. Like the Mursi tribe cutting their young girls' lips, this whipping practise should stop, but does it not border on cultural imperialism for outsiders to tell these people what they can and cannot do? No easy answer.

The eligible males paint their faces, as do a few females. But, alas, no bulls arrive and the sun sets spectacularly with no jumping ceremony.

A tense chat between the guides and the tribe's chief produces a 50% refund of our fee and we leave. The next morning, the gossip back at Camp Gringo is that the bull jump did eventually happen but that the groom was old and therefore the tribe members 'helped' him accomplish the jump because they wanted him to get married. Who knows. It was fascinating to sit among the tribe and people watch both the tribal people and the tourists (including 7 pushy loud Italians; 2 French journalists; an Italian earth mother who joined right in having her face painted; a wealthy American buwana doling out the Bir anytime asked).

Back at camp that night, we had lights but no water (for bathing/toilets). Guess you can't have both at the same time ;0) ?!
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