By Susie Grant
Exodus Tour Guide
Last December Susie was fortunate enough to accompany a group to the Omo Valley region of Ethiopia. It had been four years since she last travelled to the area and in that time had read some reports questioning the affects of tourism on the local tribes and so she was a little bit nervous about what she would see and experience.
First of all, I must say, our very well travelled group, our very experienced Ethiopian guide and myself all loved the trip. We were fortunate in that our visit coincided with a Hamer bull-jumping ceremony - a truly colourful and energetic spectacle to behold! For several hours the young men and women of the village dance, flirt, drink local beer and the young men ritually paint each other. The excitement builds as the young women tease and taunt their male relatives, totally oblivious to the foreigners at the ceremony watching from the sidelines. Eventually this right of passage to manhood culminates in a young naked man running across the backs of between 10-25 bulls.
The Hamer people are extremely proud of their traditions and culture and are happy to share this important moment in a boy’s life with tourists. Putting on a ceremony like this is becoming an expensive event for the Hamer and some feel that without the income from foreigners this cultural tradition would be threatened.
Using local guides from each tribe wherever possible (alongside our main Ethiopian guide), we got a lot more insight into the culture and a deeper understanding of the issues the tribes face. Our experience at a Konso village was well above expectations thanks to our young guide. He arranged for us to meet the King of Konso, who rules over approximately 250,000 people. The King welcomed us into his home and was happy to explain about his people and culture – even the extraordinary embalming tradition the Konso chiefs practice. His own grandfather was one of the recently embalmed.
There’s no question, things are changing in the Omo Valley - largely due to the road under construction (which is apparently to be asphalt) between Konso and Jinka. This will bring more infrastructure to the Omo Valley - better medical and educational facilities, trading and many associated benefits - but, of course, will mean that some of the tribal culture will be lost. The Hamer people are keen to keep their traditions but now the women often wear t-shirt style/bra tops to cover themselves and we were told that children attending school must wear school uniform (western style) rather than traditional clothing. This appears to be a government directive and unrelated to tourism.
The people need all the help they can get from the government, roads and tourism. The tribes largely welcome us but unwittingly we can sometimes behave in a culturally unsuitable way. It is important that as travellers we visit sensitive regions like this in a responsible, open-minded way. We will continue to use tribe guides alongside experienced Ethiopian guides and we feel happy to continue to visit the Omo Valley.
Susie went on Exodus’ Omo Valley trip (Trip code AYO)