AN ODE TO OMO VALLEY
Condé Nast Traveller India|August - September 2020
AN ODE TO OMO VALLEY
Appreciating the fiercely independent tribes of ancient Ethiopia.
Sonia Nazareth

I walk miles in the blistering heat to get to a bull-jumping ceremony in a Hamar village in Ethiopia. A pre-adolescent boy shows he has come of age by clambering across the backs of seven to fourteen bulls lined up in a row, without falling. In the soft, pink glow of the setting sun, this passage into manhood is accompanied by the heady soundtrack of chanting, hooting and horn-blowing.

This is my introduction to Lower Omo Valley in southwest Ethiopia. This dry savannah sustained by the 645km-long Omo river was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its fossils of early homo sapiens. With its starkly dramatic terrain, this cradle of mankind would be intimidating and inhospitable if not for the vibrant ethnic communities that pepper its landscape. Eight distinctive tribes have lived here for centuries.

Cultural rewards, however, are the last thing on my mind, as I watch the Hamar boy negotiate his way over the sea of cattle. He is unwell. He falters. I bite my nails. Then the clan steps in, senior men lend a hand. The community erupts in a collective scream of relief. The boy will now transition successfully into manhood. The ceremony may appear as a spectacle to a traveller— but is fiercely local.

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August - September 2020