La Vallée d'Omo / Omo Vadisi

Frankofonların kulübü Nairobi Accueil'ün 2010 Haziran gazetesinde bu sene basi Ethiyopya'nin güneyine, Omo Vadisi'ne yaptigimiz geziyle ilgili yazdigim makale yayinlandi. Daha Türkçe'sini yazmaya vakit bulamadan özel istek üstüne Ingilizcesini yazdim, klübün sekreteri de Fransizca'ya çevirdi. Arkadaslarimla Fransizca mesajlasirken Yves'e her seferinde "N'olur bir göz ativersene yazdiklarima." diyorum. Bu sefer 5 sayfalik (orijinali 5 sayfa klübün baskani tarafindan yazim azizlige ugrayip biraz kirpilmis. Buna da sükür.) koca makaleyle gidip de "Yves n'olur bir göz at!" deseydim, neler olurdu bilemiyorum. Ben isimi sansa birakmadim yazimi Ingilizce yazdim ve klübün sekreterinden çeviri yapmasini rica ettim. Cok da basarili bir çeviri olmus. Aynen ne anlatmak istediysem makalemde ayni anlami yüklemis kelimelere.

Klübün benden bir ricasi daha oldu. Yarinki aylik toplantimizda benden Omo Vadisi'nde çektigim fotgraflardan seçmece bir sergi yapmami isediler. Eh, böyle bir firsati iskalamak istemedim ve dolayisiyla kiramadim onlari ;-). Hazirliklar tamam. 60 tane fotograf basildi, paspartularla çerçevelendiler, her paspartunun sag alt kösesine altin yaldizli kalemle tarafimdan imza atildi. Mdf'den (3mm kalinliginda tahta panolar) kesildi, Omo Vadisi'nin haritasi, bazi tanitici yazilar hazirlandi. Gezi sirasinda satin aldigimiz objelerle de zenginlestirilerek bir sergi gerçeklestirmeyi düsünüyorum. Umarim yagmur yagmaz da fotograflarimi bahçede sergileyebilirim.

Not: Asagidaki yazilarin üstüne tiklediginizde daha büyük boyutta görüntü elde edebilirsiniz. Ingilizce versiyonunu da en sona ekledim. Eh bu gidisle Türkçe versiyonunu da yazarim, ayip artik ama bana, degil mi?

Sag gözümün üstüne ne idügü belirsiz bir kara leke turmus. Oralarda gözlere dadanan kara sinekler pek meshur, gerçi minik bebeleri bir kenara birakip da bana dadandiklarini hiç hatirlamiyorum, ama, neyseeeeeee.

The Omo Valley
Ethiopia, the northern neighbor of Kenya, is one of our mostly preferred holiday destinations. As we discovered the northern part of Ethiopia such as Lalibela, Axum, Bahir Dar and Gondar in our first two trips, this time, we turned our direction to the Omo Valley, the southern part of Ethiopia.
Our round trip in Omo Valley has started from Addis Ababa, continued through Abra Minch, Konso, Turmi, Jinka, Yabelo, Yirgalem and ended in Addis Ababa again.

The Omo River which is coming from the central highlands, giving life to the Omo Valley, pours into Kenya’s Lake Turkana. The landscape grows thick with tribes, including the Kara, Mursi, Hamar, Suri, Nyangatom, Kwegu, and Dassanech ethnic groups, a population of roughly 200,000. Over twenty tribes inhabit around this area.

Cattle and goats are the most meaningful possessions of the families here, but it is the crops (sorghum and corn), nourished by the Omo River, that sustain the people.

For generations, the tribes of the Omo were shielded from the outside world by mountains, savanna, and by Ethiopia's unique status as the only African nation never to have been colonized by Europeans. The tribes remained intact, migrating, warring, and making peace in ways that had vanished almost everywhere else.

Along the Omo Valley, the villages are a cluster of huts with goat pens and grain cribs set at the periphery, everything sun bleached, everything washed in dust.

The Lower Valley of the Omo River is a prehistoric site where many hominid fossils have been found. It is currently believed to be crossroads for thousands of years as various cultures and ethnic groups migrated around the region. Historians believe that the southern part of Ethiopia is as a kind of cultural crossroads for thousands of years where quite different nomad ethnic people migrated around the region. The Omo Valley people are considered among the most fascinating ones on the African continent. The entire Omo River basin is also important geologically and archaeologically. The site was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980 due to the hominid fossils, tools made of quartzite and archaeological localities have been found in the area.

Visiting the people of the south Omo was an enriching and educational experience for us. During our trip we visited several tribes but, in my article I want to write about two most remarkable ones, Mursi and Hamar.

Mursi People: Pertaining to the Nilo-Saharan linguistic group the Mursi are pastoralists and cultivators. They are settled between the Omo River and its tributary, Mago River in Mago National Park.

Though they are dedicated to grazing livestock, Mursi people have had to supplement food sources by cultivating sorghum and corn and keeping the bees.

Mursi people are renowned by their distinctive clay lip plates worn by the women. A small incision is made in the lower lip and ear lobes of a young Mursi girl during initiation rituals. A small wooden or ceramic disc is inserted into the incision and gradually replaced by larger ones until the full sized disc can be worn. It was said that this practice was first carried out to make them look ugly when Arab merchants continually raided their village in search of slaves. On the other hand, that explanation has been rejected as studies reveal that the plates are a symbol or expression of social status. The women remove their plates on certain occasions but never when Mursi men are around. The plates are made from mud (reddish or black) or wood. There are different sizes and shapes. They may be decorated with cuts or incisions on the wood or mud.

There are no “chiefs”. The eldest age-group holds the power and there are only leaders of rituals. The men display their bodies, naked except for the painting of part or all of the skin white. Living in hostile areas are being pressured by neighboring groups, these men proudly show off their scars as proof of their courage, strength and aggressiveness. From the young age, these values are instilled in them. One of their most significant ceremonies is a duel between single young men from different territories. At a certain age, they must face each other with long wooden clubs. During the fight they protect their most vulnerable parts with coarse cotton cloths. The ceremony takes place every year after the harvests (November-January). All the Surmic (Mursi, Surmi tribes, etc) groups participate in this ritual as another step up the social ladder for their young men. The fight is symbolic; the adversary has to be defeated without being killed. The victorious young man wins special prestige and, above all, attention from the young, single women. Simply participating in the fight, win or lose, is enough for the young man to receive recognition for his bravery and to prove he is prepared for marriage.

Hamar People: The Hamar occupy a mountainous region in the eastern part of the Lower Omo Valley. The Hamar have integrated with many of their neighbors and currently make up the biggest Omotic language group in the Lower Omo region.

The weekly markets in Dimeka and Turmi are meeting points, not only for the Hamar, but also for the neighboring groups. In the most important area of these markets, where purchases and exchanges of fruits, honey, butter, sorghum and coffee are made, there is a growing presence of goods from civilized world, made of plastic and other such as cloth, blankets and utensils.

The livestock market is in a separate area where the Hamar display their goats, sheep and their few cows. The transactions are small, based on the daily or weekly needs. A morning market guarantees survival for the next week and creates social links and friendships.

Hamar women are some of the most elaborately dressed women of the region. Their goatskin skirts are almost always decorated with colored glass beads. The front of the skirt is edged with beads or small pieces of metal whose weight increases at the top of the triangle and causes the skirt to always fall between their legs, thus protecting their decency. The longer point of the rear part of the skirt strongly resembles the tail of a gazelle. Their belts are covered by shells. Solid metal necklaces called esente are worn. Generally these are never taken off. The status of married women is indicated by a third necklace of leather and metal that also has a distinctive detail. Men can marry with many ladies. The shapes of the metal necklaces indicate the 1st, 2nd and 3rd wives. Necklaces made of seeds and glass beads, as well as earrings, are also worn. Metal bracelets on their arms and legs also add to their ornamentation. The hair of the women is thoroughly covered in a mixture of grease and red ochre coloring. The married women wear an elaborate plait which covers the forehead and falls down at the side to the shoulders and back. Hair style of Hamar men’s, slick with butter and brilliant with crushed minerals, is perfect.

In comparison, male decoration is simpler with the exception of the complicated hairstyles denoting their status within the age-system. This system has two basic events in the progression up the social ladder: circumcision, which occurs when a child or young man has lost his milk teeth and the ukuli bula (young Hamar man), a big step forward in the life of a young man: a leap over the bulls.

The leaping over the bulls is a ceremony to determine whether a young Hamar male is ready to make the social jump from youth to adulthood and for the responsibilities of marriage and raising a family. After the ukuli bula, the Hamar man, as a mature member of the society, may get married. Hamar marriages include the handing over of a large dowry to the family of the chosen girl. This dowry is negotiable; the high price of goats and sheep is the reason why there is no set age for the ukuli bula. This all depends on the wealth of the young man’s family as well as the number of brothers he has.

The ceremony takes place in the countryside and is attended by the family, relatives and close friends of the ukuli. Once the ritual is completed he becomes a cherkali, and after eight days his status changes to a maz. Now he is ready to marry.

The youngest women of the ukuli’s family, with exception of the mother, are highly decorated and their hair and bodies are totally covered with grease. At the beginning they form large groups, dancing and singing in circles and blowing their whistles. The maz, with their whips ready observe the dance from their seats in the shade.

Everything begins when one of the girls from the group positions herself in front of the maz and extolling the ukuli and declaring her love for him and also her desire to be marked by the whips of the maz. Eventually the maz reluctantly accepts to the continuous demands of the girls.

The maz choose their whips so that they cause the least amount of pain possible. When the maz stands up, the girl follows him and places herself in front of him slightly jumping up and down with her right hand raised and her left hand holding the whistle which she blows. As she was covered with grease, the whip slides easing the pain. From this moment on, the girls proudly wear their marks as proof of their courage, integrity and capacity for love.

The totally naked ukuli has to jump up the five to eight animals, such as cows. This is repeated until the ukuli manages to run over the herd without falling. The ukuli achieves the status of cherkali. For the next four days his body is colored with charcoal and then the following four days covered in butter. The family decides about a wife for the cherkali.
Today the Omo Valley is a destination for the tourists who are curious to witness those same rituals, hoping for Africa that exists in their Western imagination, all wild animals and face paint and dancing. Tourists come to see the Omo tribes before it becomes civilized and changed completely.

Yet it's true: The Omo region, still one of Africa's most untouched cultural landscapes, is changing. The big animals are mostly gone, hunted out with weapons that flow in from wars across the borders in Sudan or Somalia. Aid organizations deliver food, build schools, and plan irrigation projects, all of which make life more stable but inevitably, unstoppably, change the way it has long been lived. The government, which for generations essentially ignored this place, now works to modernize Omo tribes. Unfortunately, tourists bring their civilization means to the area. It is not possible to take photos free of charge. You should pay 1 or 2 Birr (*) to each local model for taking their photos. As they are used to the power of the money, they are never happy with the amount that they earn. They always ask more and more. In this condition it is not so easy to catch the best pose.

Change is coming to the Omo. In the wilderness, amid swirling dust and the gnawing sounds of heavy machinery, a dam is being built approximately 500 kilometers upriver from the Omo people. The dam, called Gilgel Gibe III, will be one of the largest dams in the world. It will create an equally massive reservoir, and the water will be used to generate up to 1,870 megawatts of power that Ethiopia plans to sell to energy-strapped neighbors, such as Kenya and Sudan. It is not scheduled for completion until 2013, but contracts have already been signed.
Gibe III will bring cash to Ethiopia and produce much needed electricity in a country where only 33 percent of the population has electrical power. But it will also reduce the river's flow and tame the seasons of flood and recession that the tribes living downstream rely on to nourish their crops. The indigenous tribes have little power to oppose a project that has official blessings and massive momentum. Many are unaware of the dam's potential to transform their lives; many others support the government, even if they do not fully understand its plans. The Ethiopian government aims to abolish the harmful traditional practices, such as “the ritual whipping of women or the stick fights or the cattle-jumping ceremony”. Nowadays ironically, these practices attract the tourists to the region.

The list of targeted practices includes female circumcision and something called mingi killing. Mingi is a kind of very bad luck. In southern Ethiopia many tribes believe it is a bad omen if children are born deformed, if their top teeth erupt before their bottom teeth, or if they are born out of wedlock. Tradition dictates such children must be killed before mingi spreads
Parents do not necessarily want to obey, but communal pressure is strong. Sometimes the child is abandoned in the bush, its mouth filled with earth; sometimes it is hurled into the river.
After heavy government lobbying, Wangala, the king of Hamar tribe decided to support a ban. "Now there will be no more mingi killing among the Hamar."

Before the changes sweep away all these ethnical treasures in Omo Valley, don’t loose time to experience this unique world!

Trip details
Travel Agency: Travel Ethiopia, Addis Ababa
Mrs. Samrawit Fekade (owner of the company)
Tel: +251-11-5525 479, 5508 870, 5523 165, 5510 168, 5525 478

E-MAIL: travelethiopia@ethionet.et

Hotels: Quality was average even sometimes below the average. Outside Addis Ababa most of the hotels are owned by the government. They are in process of privatization, but it will take time. So, no competition, no quality!

Car, driver and guide: During the trip our car was a brand new 4x4, driven by a safe driver and accompanied by a well-experienced local guide.

(*) Birr: Ethiopian currency, 100 Birr is approximately equal to 5.5 Euro.

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