Along the Omo River

Traveling through this amazing country, you quickly realize that many North Americans have a pre-conceived image of Ethiopia; one that’s molded by frequent news stories about drought and hunger along with the crushing poverty that exists in some places.
But while these remain serious issues (particularly in the country’s north), Ethiopia is also a land with an intriguing history, many diverse and unique landscapes, and stunning, centuries-old monuments.
The country’s south-western sector, bisected by the Omo River, is also widely known as one of Africa’s most unique and intact cultural landscapes.

The various ethnic groups that reside along the Omo were generally shielded from the outside world by rugged mountains and seemingly endless savannah. Their isolation was further extended by Ethiopia’s unique status as one of only two African nations never to be colonized by Europeans.
In the absence of significant external influences, the various tribes of the Omo carried on with their customs and traditions, migrating by season and occasionally fighting with each other.
Yet, while the indigenous groups of the area remain distinct and disparate, they also share a rich, symbolic culture, often expressed through body art and adornment. This is a way of life that has long since vanished from most of the continent, but glimmers of this “historical Africa” are still found here.

To many of the tribes along the lower Omo, livestock is the embodiment of wealth and prestige. Yet their livelihood is dependent on planting crops of sorghum, maize and beans using what’s known as “flood-retreat agriculture.” This type of farming is dependent on the annual flooding cycle which deposits a layer of nutrient-rich silt beside the river, making the land productive for another year.
Tribes such as the Bodi, Karo, Muguji, Mursi and Nyangatom have farmed this way for generations and their culture revolves around the natural pulsations of the Omo.

But unbeknown to many who live here, there is significant change in the wind–and it’s coming from upriver.

The annual rise and fall of the Omo waters is, in effect, the ancient heartbeat of the valley that has dictated the economic and social values of the almost 200,000 tribal members dependent on farming the river’s banks. All this will change dramatically in the coming years due to the construction of the massive Gibe 3hydroelectric dam, located a few hundred kilometers upriver.

via bo-ris


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