Lower Omo Valley

Karo Man: Lower Omo Valley

Ethiopia, like many other  African countries, is a multi-ethnic state. Many distinctions have been blurred  by intermarriage over the years but many also remain. The differences may be observed in the number of languages spoken - an astonishing 83, falling into four main language groups: Semitic, Cushitic, Omotic and Nilo-Saharan. There are  200 different dialects.

The lower Omo River valley in southwest Ethiopia is one of the last unspoiled wilderness regions in Africa. Isolated by the 4500m-high Ethiopian mountain range to the north, the impenetrable swamplands of the Nile to the west and the desert of northern Kenya to the south, the valley is mainly fed by the Omo River which bisects Ethiopia’s largest and most inaccessible parks: the Omo National Park which lies on its west bank and Mago National Park on its east Bank. The valley is also rich in paleo-anthropological fossils; the latest hominid remains to be discovered date back over four million years.

The lower valley of the Omo unlike any other place on Earth has the largest diversity of ethnically different groups in the whole of Ethiopia and possibly in Africa.In an area of less than 15,000 square kilometers more than ten different languages are spoken (excluding dialects) .Experts believe that for thousands of years it was a crossroads of a wide assortment of cultures where early humans of many different ethnicities passed as they migrated from and to lands in every direction. To this day, the cultures and people of the Lower Valley of the Omo are focus of study for their incredible diversity.

The entire Omo region is inhabited by ethino-cultural groups pertaining to two important linguistic lines: Nilo-Saharan and Afro-Asiatic. The Nilo-Saharan linguistic line includes Bume, Mursi, and Surma while The Afro-Asiatic line is comprised of Karo,Banna,Bashada,Hamar,and Dizi who are Omotic and Dassanech, Erbore, Tsamako who are Eastern Cushitic.

Herdsmen is a typical characteristic of the majority of the peoples in the Lower Omo region. Livestock not only has economic value, but also social value. It is strongly connected to a network of social relationships that comprises their culture. It is the source of food, clothing, an expression of wealth and Prestige, and also play great roles in an individual’s stages of life like initiation, weddings, etc….

In general, Omo valley people are structured by the Age-system.This is a system exclusively associated with men, who must pass through several stages from birth to adulthood. The rites and ceremonies determine the progress each male makes with in his group. Child, Youth and Adult are the three main stages of life. Each of these stages brings with it a series of social obligations towards the family and the group, as well as certain advantages or rights.


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