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Ethiopian Omo Valley tribes and their body art

Updated on June 27, 2013

The people of the Omo Valley

In the Omo Valley of Southern Ethiopia live many tribes of people who use amazing body art to adorn themselves for enjoyment and as an artistic expression. They use flowers, leaves, twigs and face and body paint made from natural pigments such as red ochre.

Hans Silvester has brought these incredible people to the world's attention with a book entitled Natural Fashion: Tribal Decoration from Africa . A video has been made using his photos and has been circulating via subscribers to the YouTube site.

The names of some of the tribes are the Hamar (Hamer), Mursi, Karo, Arbore and Surma.

Natural Fashion: Tribal Decoration from Africa)

Omo tribal body art

Omo tribal member. Photo by Hans Silvester
Omo tribal member. Photo by Hans Silvester

Other forms of body art

The women of the Mursi and Surma tribes practise a custom of extending their lower lips by making a cut into the lip and stretching it by means of an inserted wooden peg and later on by a clay lip plate. As the space between the upper and lower lip is created bigger and bigger lip plates can be worn producing a unique appearance.

Only the girls and women of the tribe wear lip plates and the practise is started six to 12 months before a teenage girl is due to get married. The lower front teeth are removed too.

Where the mouth would be you end up seeing a circular plate adornment. These plates can be as much as 16 inches in diameter in some women.

The women make their own lip plates and take great pride in their craft. A lip plate is seen as an example of artwork.

The people of the Ethiopian tribes also wear many strings of beads and practice other forms of body modifiation such as piercing and extending their ear lobes and deliberate scarification of their skin.

Wikipedia informs us that: "The Suri pride themselves on their scars and how many they carry. Women perform scarification by slicing their skin with a razor blade after lifting it with a thorn."

The tribal people may braid their hair or shave it off or have combinations of shaved areas and parts covered by hair.

The custom of face and body painting in many cases and decorating themselves with plant material and flowers appears to be very much about self expression and enjoyment rather than any ceremonial purpose.

The Omo People

A way of life threatened

The tribal people of the Omo Valley keep cattle, sheep and goats but their unique pastoral way of life is sadly threatened by the modern world and the march of development.

A hydroelectric dam, known as Gibe III, is planned to be constructed across the Omo River Valley and according to Survival International this will cause the threatened end to the way of life of some 200,000 Ethiopian tribal people.

Survival International’s director, Stephen Corry, is quoted on the organisation's site as saying: "The Gibe III dam will be a disaster of cataclysmic proportions for the tribes of the Omo valley. Their land and livelihoods will be destroyed, yet few have any idea what lies ahead. The government has violated Ethiopia’s constitution and international law in the procurement process. No respectable outside body should be funding this atrocious project."

Survival have launched a campaign and petition to help get this dam halted. Please see the link below for details.

Copyright © 2010 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.

Ethiopia - South Omo Tribes


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    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thanks for posting, Micky!

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 7 years ago

      Unreal Sir! It looks like there must be a lot of the Golden Rule living with these people.


      But- can't we put all these people to work in a factory? Some of them are not created equally! Some could use breast implants, prostheses, real jewelry that the rest of the world is tearing up the rest of the world for. Where is the nearest McDonalds? What are their views on the world situation? Are any on facebook?

      Yes- I'm pulling your lariat!

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thank you for posting, Earth Angel! I am glad you enjoyed this hub! Namaste!

    • Earth Angel profile image

      Earth Angel 7 years ago

      Blessings and Namaste' to you this lovely morning!!

      Thank you for sharing those wonderful photos of such beautiful women!! Sure makes my make-up routine look uninspired!!

      Glad to read you are doing well!!

      Blessings always, Earth Angel!!

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thank you for checking out my latest hub, Darlene!

    • Darlene Sabella profile image

      Darlene Sabella 7 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

      Wow, it is amazing and so colorful, this is a great hub, thank you for sharing this. Thumbs up my friend

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thanks for posting!

    • SomewayOuttaHere profile image

      SomewayOuttaHere 7 years ago from TheGreatGigInTheSky

      thank you...beautiful! too bad about the need to have guns...the pics in the Omo People video were absolutely beautiful!