Extraordinary cultural events await visitors to the Omo Region
Attending a Hamar Bull-jumping ceremony is a mind-blowing experience
The people in the Konso and South Omo region of Ethiopia are incredibly special. As our friend Philip Briggs wrote in his superb Ethiopia: the Bradt Guide, they are about as far removed from Western civilisation as it is possible to be in Africa, and frankly, they don't give a damn what other people think of them.
However, these incredible people are also on the brink of immense social change. In collaboration with foreign investors including Turkey and China, large tracts of land along the Omo River have been cleared to make way for ghastly monoculture - in this case cotton and sugar plantations. Survival International and other organisations, documented the forced removal of tribes people from their traditional lands.
But tourism can play a positive role: the government, keen to develop and showcase Ethiopia's marvellous tourist attractions, recognises the value attached to retention of the very distinctive cultural identity of its diverse tribes, especially those in the Konso and South Omo region. Tourism to this part of Ethiopia, does however have to be arranged with extreme sensitivity, lest it leave a bitter aftertaste in the mouths of hosts and guests alike.
Two of the tribes who leave the most lasting impressions on visitors are the Mursi - whose women wear the huge lip-plates - and the Hamar, who among other things, practice the absolutely remarkable Bull-jumping ceremonies. This happens when a young man decides he's old enough to marry and gather a heard of cattle. To make the transition from boyhood to manhood he then has to strip naked in front of the whole village and all his relatives, and jump over a row of aligned cattle four times. On the day other men who have previously been through the ritual, whip their female relatives. To 'western' visitors this is horrendous, but Hamar women consider the scarring honorific, in other words, the man who whipped her and whose scars she carries on her back, will be indebted to her and in difficult times, will be obliged to help her out.
Talk to us if you fancy going the Omo - it is a remarkable journey for those with a deep interest in traditional culture.
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