The most comprehensive travel guide to Africa      

Omo Valley

Omo valley is located about 900 km on rough and dusty roads from the capital of Ethiopia Addis Ababa and also it is more than 1000 km from Nairobi in Kenya – the nearest two capitals in Africa, making it one of the remotest areas in East Africa.

The road through Mago National Park

The road through Mago National Park in the lower Omo Valley

 

A woman from the Mursi tribe wearing the traditional lip plate - photo © Mikkel Grabowski 2012

A woman from the Mursi tribe wearing the traditional lip plate – photo © Mikkel Grabowski 2012

The lower Omo valley as a whole, including Omo and Mago National Parks, is one of the least-developed regions in Africa in terms of modern-day investments.

A young Mursi girl wearing a treaditional headdress with tuskers from a warthog - photo © Mikkel Grabowski

A young Mursi girl wearing a traditional headdress with tuskers from a warthog – photo © Mikkel Grabowski

Omo valley sees a habitation of about 200,000 tribal people and it is definately one of Africas last true frontiers and an almost mythical place where time apparantly stops. The poor road network in the region is perhaps one reason why the area has stayed intact. This has assisted in delaying the destruction of the lifestyles of the people who live there as well as the balance of natural resources on which they depend.

A young Mursi woman stands in front of her hut in omo valley ethiopia - photo © Mikkel Grabowski

A young Mursi woman stands in front of her hut in omo valley ethiopia – photo © Mikkel Grabowski

In Omo valley tribes live very traditional and authentically and its is common to see the people here attributes themselves with an amazing array of ornamentation, beauty scars, lip plates, ear plugs, enormous headdresses of ropes and iron with tuskers from warthogs or even hippoes.

A boy from the Mursi tribe sitting at the entrance of their house in lower Omo valley, Ethiopia - photo © Mikkel Grabowski 2012

A boy from the Mursi tribe sitting at the entrance of their house in lower Omo valley, Ethiopia – photo © Mikkel Grabowski 2012

Hamer family in Omo valley, Photo © Mikkel Grabowski 2012 Three Hamer woman with a child in Omo valley on their way home after having been to town. Photo © Mikkel Grabowski 2012

The people in Omo valley can be divided into tribes like Arbore, Ari, Mursi, Bena, Bumi, Daasanech, Dorze, Hamer/Hamar, Karo, Kwegu, Konso, Tsemay and Turkana- most of them living as if modern civilisation never had occurred.

Hamer woman wearing neclaces made out of pearl and aluminium - her chest smeared in an ochre butter-oil misture and sweat - Photo © Mikkel Grabowski

Hamer woman wearing neclaces made out of pearl and aluminium – her chest smeared in an ochre butter-oil misture and sweat – Photo © Mikkel Grabowski

Omo valley lies just north of the mighty Lake Turkana – its main tributary being the Omo river going through Omo valley. At Omorate Omo river is wide and deep – a mighthy river that takes dug out or good swimmers to cross but when it 50 km further south reaches Lake Turkana a river delta forms.

A woman from the mursi tribe without her lip plate - photo © Mikkel Grabowski

A woman from the mursi tribe without her lip plate – photo © Mikkel Grabowski

The journey to Omo valley from Addis Ababa goes through Arba Minch and then most often to Jinka then further on through Mago National Park to you finally reach the only small town in Lower Omo Valley called Turmi. From Turmi there are many possibilities for exploring this amazing place on earth where humans still seem to live like we all did many millions years ago.

A boy only wearing a cross stands at the bank of the Omo river in southern Ethiopia. Photo © Mikkel Grabowski

A boy only wearing a cross stands at the bank of the Omo river in southern Ethiopia. Photo © Mikkel Grabowski

necklace with key on a back of a Dassanech woman in Omorate, Omo valley - Ethiopia. Photo © Mikkel Grabowski 2012

Necklaces with a key attached on the back of a Dassanech woman in Omorate, Omo valley – Ethiopia. Photo © Mikkel Grabowski 2012

Hamer people in a small village to stock up on stuff nature doesn’t provide them – Photo © Mikkel Grabowski

Hamer people in a small village to stock up on stuff nature doesn’t provide them – Photo © Mikkel Grabowski

boys on stilts in Omo valley photo © mikkel grabowski

Boys on stilts in Omo valley in southern Ethiopia photo © mikkel grabowski

A man from the Mursi tribe with his gun. Violent clashes and rivalry between the tribes and clans over cattle are not uncommon in Omo valley - photo © Mikkel Grabowski 2012

A man from the Mursi tribe with his gun. Violent clashes and rivalry between the tribes and clans over cattle are not uncommon in Omo valley – photo © Mikkel Grabowski 2012

A mursi woman in the market in jinka, Ethiopia - photo © Mikkel Grabowski 2012

A mursi woman in the market in jinka, Ethiopia – photo © Mikkel Grabowski 2012

Boy playing with a tire and some fruits he uses as a football, Omo valley Ethiopia. Photo © Mikkel Grabowski

Boy playing with a tire and some fruits he uses as a football, Omo valley Ethiopia. Photo © Mikkel Grabowski

The authentic and “untouched” feeling of the Lower Omo valley and its amazing tribal people is not something that can be sure to prevail. The government of Ethiopia is building Gibe III hydroelectric dam on the Omo river in order to generate electricity to the rest of the country and its more than 80 million inhabitants.

road construction in mago national park to make better access to Omo valley - photo © Mikkel Grabowski

Road construction in mago national park to make better access to Omo valley – photo © Mikkel Grabowski

The Gibe dam will regulate river flows to support year-round commercial agriculture, hence having huge impact downstream as the natural flow of the river forcing people to relocate and their livestock to find new pastures. Most significantly, the changes in river flow caused by the dam and associated irrigated plantations could cause a huge drop in the water levels of Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake and another UNESCO World Heritage site. Lake Turkana receives 90% of its water from the Omo River and is projected to drop by about two meters during the initial filling of the dam, which is estimated to begin around May 2014. If current plans to create new plantations continue to move forward, the lake could drop as much as 16 to 22 meters. The average depth of the lake is just 31 meters.

See a video here explaining the environmental effects of the Gibe lll dam.

The above images show indigenous people of the Omo valley in Ethiopia and it is an example of how some Africans still in 2012 display very colorful and traditional/exotic appearances - Photos © Mikkel Grabowski 2012

The above images show indigenous people of the Omo valley in Ethiopia in their traditional attires and appearances – Photos © Mikkel Grabowski 2012

Also the Ethiopian government is building paved roads into the region to support the growing cotton industry in Omo valley – bringing big trucks and much more people into the valley too. The road will bring more infrastructure to the Omo Valley – better medical and educational facilities, trading and many associated benefits – but, of course, it will mean that some of the tribal culture will be lost.

Man from the Karo tribe  in Omo valley  © Mikkel Grabowski

Man from the Karo tribe wearing modern Western attires like a vest, a steel bracelet from a watch around his neck and parts from a remote control as ear rings, Omo valley © Mikkel Grabowski

The track from Jinka in the east to the edge of the Omo River is only accessible in the dry season (August?February). Another track, from Maji to the Omo National Park on the west, is almost impassable and is mostly used only by Omo National Park vehicles and a few other adventurous visiting groups. The new road fundamentally changes the living conditions for the tribal people living in Omo valley challenging their unique traditional way of living.

Road construction in mago national park to make better access to Omo valley - photo © Mikkel Grabowski

A new road limking Jinka and Konso is under construction in Omo valley and local people already using it when going from place to place – photo © Mikkel Grabowski

Part of the Ethiopian governments plans in the Omo valley is to establish sugar plantations and cotton fields. Satellite images analyzed by Human Rights Watch show devastating changes to the Lower Omo Valley between November 2010 and January 2013, with large areas originally used for grazing cleared of all vegetation and new roads and irrigation canals crisscrossing the valley.

Big piles of cotton in omo valley

Huge piles of cotton grown in the omo valley, ready for export – photo © Mikkel Grabowski 2012

Lands critical for the livelihoods of the agro-pastoralist Bodi and Mursi peoples have been cleared for the sugar plantations. These changes are happening without their consent or compensation, local people have told Human Rights Watch.

truck with cotton omo valley

A truck loaded with cotton grown in omo valley on its way to Addis Ababa. Photo © Mikkel Grabowski 2012

Be Sociable, Share!

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

  • Africa-Expert

    Photography safaris in Africa

  • E-books

    Storytelling with film and photography in Africa