Dasanech Tribe

Sunday, December 21, 2014
Omarate, Ethiopia
Last morning at this campsite. We were the only campers here last night. It is supposed to be high season but so far I have seen so few tourists. A few were travelling independently and this is so hard. Most had a guide. Breakfast at 7.30 am of scrambled eggs while the tents were dropped and packed away.

Passing through open grassy savannah like country, I was really surprised at the 40 km Chinese built road where we were able to travel along it at 100 km. Soon it ran out just before the immigration control point at Omorate – 72 kms from Turmi and it was back to that fine clay like dust. As we were so close to the Kenyan border, we had to show our passports at the Immigration Controlling Post.

This newly road would be another secondary connection to Kenya. We met at Kanta Lodge, Konso a Scottish oilman, no oil has been found yet in this area. So I wonder why are the Chinese investing in this major infrastructure work here? Minerals?

Across the Omo River by these 2 dugout canoes hollowed out from fig trees. Never seen one so crooked. This will soon change with the opening of a new bridge across the Omo River.

The usual introduction of the Dasanech Tribe:
- men are out tending the cattle or in the fields.
- the round grass, skin or metal corrugated covered houses. A sheet of corrugated tin cost 200 birr.
- ladies wearing 1 goat skin = married.
- ladies wearing 2 goat skins = unmarried.
- monkey skin = worn for ceremonial purposes.
- hair braided at the top of the head = signifies the number of children they have.
- first wife = around the elbow 3 rings bracelets are worn.
- hair is clay mixed with butter.
- crocodile teeth is used for decoration.
- 20 cows = dowry.
- polygamy is practiced up to 5 wives.
- female circumcision is practiced.
- nomads following their cattle and they are animist.
- 350 in this village.
- sorghum is stored in the small round raised structures.
- tobacco, maize and sorghum are grown. Cotton grown elsewhere.
- a clinic, primary and secondary school are here in this area.

Or as Mr Wikipedia would put it …. TheDaasanach are an ethnic group of Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan. Their main homeland is in the Debub Omo Zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People's Region of Ethiopia, around the North end of Lake Turkana. According to the 2007 national census, they number 48,067 people (or 0.07% of the total population of Ethiopia), of whom 1,481 are urban dwellers.

There are a number of variant spellings of Daasanach, including Dasenach and Dassanech (the latter used in an episode about them in the TV series Tribe). Daasanach is the primary name given in the Ethnologue language entry.

The Daasanach are traditionally a pastoral people by tradition, but in recent years have become primarily agropastoral. Having lost the majority of their lands over the past fifty years or so, primarily as a result from being excluded from their traditional Kenyan lands, including on both sides of Lake Turkana, and the 'Ilemi Triangle' of Sudan, they have suffered a massive decrease in the numbers of cattle, goats and sheep. As a result, large numbers of them have moved to areas closer to the Omo River, where they attempt to grow enough crops to survive. There is much disease along the river (including tsetse, which has increased with forest and woodland development there), however, making this solution to their economic plight difficult. Like many pastoral peoples throughout this region of Africa, the Daasanach are a highly egalitarian society, with a social system involving age sets and clan lineages - both of which involve strong reciprocity relations.

The Daasanach language is a Cushitic language, notable for its large number of noun classes, irregular verb system, and implosive consonants (for instance, the initial D in Daasanach is implosive, sometimes written as 'D).

The Daasanach are a primarily agropastoral people; they grow sorghum, maize, pumpkins and beans when the Omo river and its delta floods. Otherwise the Daasanach rely on their goats and cattle which give them milk, and are slaughtered in the dry season for meat and hides. Sorghum is cooked with water into a porridge eaten with a stew. Corn is usually roasted, and sorghum is fermented into beer. The Daasanach who herd cattle live in dome-shaped houses made from a frame of branches, covered with hides and woven boxes (which are used to carry possessions on donkeys when the Daasanach migrate). The huts have a hearth, with mats covering the floor used for sleeping. The Dies, or lower class, are people who have lost their cattle and their way of living. They live on the shores of Lake Turkana hunting crocodiles and fishing. Although their status is low because of their lack of cattle, the Dies help the herders with crocodile meat and fish in return for meat. 

Women are circumcised by removing the clitoris. Women who are not circumcised are called animals or boys and cannot get married or wear clothes. Women wear a pleated cowskin skirt and necklaces and bracelets, they are usually are married off at 17 while men are at 20. Boys are circumcised. Men wear only a checkered cloth around their waist. Thanks Mr Wikipedia again.




I had my own local 13 year old outgoing school boy Sisay who throughout the photo taking time with his excellent English, assisted me by getting generally 2 mothers and their babies together, ensuring that I had their faces in the sunlight and moving "unwanted" subjects out of the way ..... He asked if I wanted to be in the photo with one of the group. Gave him my camera and away he clicked like a pro. Asked Sisay what he wanted to be career wise .... an engineer. This country needs more locally trained engineer so I wish him well in his life's quest.








A group of four 12 and 13 year old girls wanted 50 birr / NZ$3.30 / US$2.45 for a group dance as we left the village. They also chanted "1, 2, 3, 4 for 10 birr" as we walked back to the river.


This was the last of the Omo Valley tribal visits. Somehow it felt at times like a factory tour. Not being critical at all, but generally we heard a little bit about each tribe, then the locals all lined up like a cattle auction..... choose me and take my photo. 5 birr was the going rate. For children it could be 2 or 3 birrs and they accepted coins whereas the adults did not like coins or thorn notes. Most of the mothers wanted 5 birrs for their baby as well. I suppose that this was one way for them to earn a few birrs. More often than not it was an expressionless facial and often not straight on to the camera that we got.

The encounter was all too brief. Just seeing the subsistence living style and how the different tribes are currently living was eye opening. I wonder how this will all change as more and more tourists descend to the Omo Valley with the road access to the area being made easier and more and more accommodation being built. It took us 2 days to drive here and then another 2 days to drive back to Addis. No doubt a local regional airport will be opened one day especially if oil or minerals are found.

After a refreshing cold Coke, 20 birr / NZ$1.30 / US$1 in a 500 ml plastic bottle, it was soon time to head back along the same way to Konso and by now the afternoon heat was beginning to be stifling hot. It felt like someone had left the oven door open. At least it was a dry heat. While the Toyota land cruiser "outside" temperature gauge said 33 degrees, I am sure that it was warmer than this. Wish that there was a refreshing cool swimming pool back at Kanta Lodge but alas not so. At least they had their large rain shower head with that solar heated water. It was one of my longest shower as I washed my dusty clothes as well. Good old Sunlight soap at work.

Dinner was at the waiter's suggestion Roast Lamb 85 birr / NZ$5.70 / US$4.20, juice 25 birr / NZ$1.70 / US$1.20 and 2 St Georges totalling 132 birr / NZ$8.80 / US$6.50. The lamb was OK but a bit tough.
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