Omo Valley, Ethiopia

Ethiopia is home to approximately 83 languages — so there’s at least that many tribes. From Oromo (the majority) to Amhara to Tigray to Afar to Somali, these tribes all have regions specific to them. But Ethiopia’s also got the Southern Tribes Region, which is jam-packed with tribes that speak completely unrelated languages, practice wildly different customs, and choose to live traditionally with little taste for modern amenities. Most notoriously, many of these tribes practice various body modifications and adornments, ranging from body painting to scarification to lip plates, believe in animism rather than organised religion, and often wear little to no clothing — all the kind of stuff you see on documentaries, as if some uncontacted humans isolated from the rest of the world. (They’re not.)

Unfortunately, in recent years it’s become sort of a human zoo, with hordes of package tourists arriving in villages in their 4x4s and minibuses, picking photogenic villagers — who often go beyond traditional dress to be more eye-catching to tourists — from a lineup, snapping pictures, and leaving. The tribes themselves have turned it into an income source, which they should, but some tribes take it too far by demanding tourists take photos then demanding cash, often getting into altercations about payment.

With a bit of reluctance, I decided to go visit the Omo Valley anyway. I held out some hope that there would be something more rewarding than just pictures of “exotic looking” people, and I’m very glad to say that there was indeed so much more than that.

(Warning: some images below may be considered not safe for work.)
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