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Tribes of Ethiopia


Suri tribe is a Nilo-Saharan semi nomadic people that live to the Coast of Omo River, in the Southwestern part of Ethiopia. Their number is estimated not to be 50,000. Like the Mursi the Suri woman wears lip plates that are made out of clay. And the Suri people are known for their traditional stick fight called Donga. Donga is a ritual the Suri take extreme seriously which is done so young men can find wives. It is a way for young men to prove themselves to the young women.

To the Suri the ideal time to stick fight is just after it rains.


The Mursi people are one of the most popular tribes from the larger Surma group. They are the Nilo-Saharan agro-pastoralists settled around the Omo and Mago Rivers. The Mursi´s are well known for their unique lip plates. Due to the climate, they move twice a year between the winter and summer months. They herd cattle and grow crops along the banks of the Mago River.

The men practice light scarification on their shoulders after killing an enemy, and shave geometric patterns on their head. During dances and ceremonies they adorn literally every part of their body with white chalk paint.


The Karo, which number about 5000 people, mainly live on the practice of flood retreat cultivation on the bank of the Omo River in south-western Ethiopia.

The Karo excel in face and body painting, practiced in preparation of their dances and ceremonies. They decorate their bodies, often imitating the spotted plumage of a guinea fowl. Feather plumes are inserted in their clay hair buns to complete the look. The clay hair bun can take up to three days to construct and is usually re-made every three to six months. Their painted facemasks are spectacular.

Karo women scarify their chests to beautify themselves. Scars are cut with a knife and ash is rubbed to produce a raised welt.


The Hamers are pastoralists and number about 35,000 they are known for their practice of body adornment and wearing a multitude of colorful beads. Women adorn their necks with heavy polished iron jewelry. Hamer society consists of a complex system of age group. To pass from one age group to another involves complicated rituals. The most significant ceremony for young men is the “Bull Jumping” – the final test before passing to adulthood.

Several days before the ceremony, initiates pass out invitations in the form of dried knotted grass. The ceremony lasts three days. Late in the afternoon on the final day, ten to thirteen bulls are lined up side by side. The naked initiate rushes towards the animal, vaults onto the first bull´s back and then runs across the lines of animal. At the end of the line, he turns back to repeat the performance in the opposite direction. He must make this unstable journey without falling, inorder to join the ranks of the Maza.

Night dancing called Evangadi is also a good tradition experience for any travelers.

The Hamer men have a reputation of being less than adoring husbands. The women submit to the ritual floggings proudly and love to show the deep scars that are regarded as a proof of devotion to their husbands.


Also known as Ngangatom or the Bume. The Bumi live south of Omo National Park and occasionally migrate into the lower regions of the park when water or grazing is scarce. Numbering around 6,000 – 7,000 in population, the Bumi are agro-pastoralists, relaying on cattle herding and flood-retreat agriculture (consisting mainly of Sorghum harvesting on the Omo and Kibish Rivers). The Bumi tend to indulge in honey and frequently smoke out beehives in the park to get to the honey inside the nests.

Small groups of Bumi living along the Omo are specialized crocodile hunters using harpoons from a dugout canoe. The elders of both sexes wear a lower lip plug, the men´s being made from ivory and women´s made from copper filigree. 


The Bodi are pastoralists living close to the Omo River in south-western Ethiopia.

The Bodi are of Nilo Saharan stock and pastoral background. Although they do cultivate sorghum along the banks of the Omo River, their culture is very much cattle centered. Similar to the Mursi, livestock plays an important role in marriage, divination and name giving rituals. The Bodi classification of cattle is complex, with over eighty words to denote different colors and patterns. Bodi dress is simple. The women dress goatskins tied at the waist and shoulder, while men fasten a strip of cotton or bark-cloth around their waist.


Ari women are famous for their pottery which they sell to support their families.

The Ari inhabits the Northern border of Mago National Park in southwestern Ethiopia. Ari villages have neat compounds in fertile and scenic land with coffee plantations. They have large livestock herds and produce large quantities of honey. The women wear skirts from the false Banana (Inset) tree. Ari women are famous for their pottery too.   

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