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Body Painting & Ceremonies - Ethiopia

Updated: Jun 11, 2019

The second part of Inez Travels Ethiopia took me to the Omo River in the South West. The fertile land is home to many wildlife species as well as indigenous tribes that I had the luck to meet and interact with.

Omo Tribes

About 200,000 indigenous people inhabit the Omo valley and form a part of its diverse ecosystems of grasslands, volcanic landscape, and even a small forest. There are about eight tribes that live directly in the Omo River area Bodi, Daasanach, Kara, Kwegu, Mursi and Nyangatom. The Hamar, which I also visited live a bit further away but also benefit from the fertile river banks.

The tribes rely on the river for their nutrition and they installed complex social agreements as well as practical habits to deal with the unpredictable water and weather conditions of the region. However, the construction of a hydroelectric power station and a dam has shown to endanger the wellbeing of the local tribes as they have limited access to resources.

Body Painting

All of the tribes along the Omo river use beaded necklaces and ornaments, bone and copper ‘jewelry’ and ashes and pigment for specific reasons. Body scarification is also a very common method for decoration. Specifically the Nyangatom warriors, men and women, scar themselves after they have killed an enemy. This is to release the bad blood and a reminder of heroism.


The Hamar are known for the coming of age rituals in which the female members blow their horns to initiate the boys’ bull running. They have to compete in a contest of running over the back of castrated bulls without falling. Part of the ritual invites the men who have already successfully completed the ceremony, to whip the women. The women are proud of their scars as they show devotion to their husbands.

Apart for boys becoming men, ceremonies are mainly performed for weddings, blessings for the rain, funerals or in with the Daassanach specifically also the blessing of girls around their tenth birthday.

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