Traveling Nancy

Traveling around the world as far as I can go.

Mursi and Ari Tribes – January 13th


We had to leave early in the morning in order to visit the Mursi people because Ayu said that after 11:00 am, it is there rest time when they may be drinking alcohol and therefore not be as friendly to visitors.

We drove to the beginning of the Mago National Park where Ayu found a guide and a park ranger.  The ranger is, of course, carrying his gun.

We passed some Dik-dik on the way to the village. They move very fast. Ayu managed to take a couple of photos with my camera from his open window.

We were required to pay the chief of the village 200 birr for each person using a camera before taking any photos. Jane, Sue, and I decided that we would only use my camera.

I read that although the creation of Mago Park in 1979 forced the Mursi and other tribal people out of certain areas, it seems like the park mostly existed on paper and so it didn’t infringe much on the lives of the local people.

I learned most of the information about the Mursi people from our guide, the internet, and a pamphlet ( A Guide to the Ethnic Groups Omo Valley Southern Ethiopia by Minalu Adem) which I purchased at the Jinka resort.   Here is some of the information

  • Women are in charge of building the homes

  • Men hunt for buffalo but it is illegal.
  • The women urinate standing up and the men urinate sitting down. Of course we did not see this.
  • The women are famed for wearing large plates in their lips and ears. There is much controversy about the origin of this practice. It was perhaps to disfigure to discourage slave raiders or perhaps as an object of beauty. It is usually done when the woman reaches about 15 years of age the girls take out front teeth and cut their lips. The girl’s husband gets to decide whether to cut the lip and determines just how big the plate that she will put into her lip will become.

  • Each man has a minimum of three wives and perhaps a maximum of seven wives. Each wife has 4 to 6 children. Minimum is two children.
  • Cattle are the Mursi’s most prized possession. They measure wealth by the number of cattle they own and name themselves after the color of their favorite cattle.
  • Mursi are considered one of the wealthiest ethnic groups in the area, as they own greater numbers of cattle.
  • Almost every significant social relationship, especially marriage, is marked and validated by the exchange of cattle. The dowry is usually a number of cattle (30-40) and, more commonly nowadays, a gun. The groom’s family gives the brides’ wealth to the bride’s father. If they come from different villages, after the marriage they live in the woman’s village. For this reason, female children are seen as a blessing because they will eventually contribute to their father’s wealth. This doesn’t mean that male children are any less important as they will be responsible for looking after the animals.
  • The Mursi also practice flood retreat cultivation and rain-fed bush-land cultivation. It has been suggested that if they were to be denied access to the Omo River, they could only survive by becoming dependent on food aid.
  • Their main crop is sorghum, but they also grow maize, beans, chickpeas and tobacco. They are also known to hive bees for honey.
  • Their main diet is a kind of dry porridge made from sorghum or maize. They add milk and blood (taken either directly from a wound made into the neck of their cattle, or stored in a calabash gourd. Although uncommon, the Mursi people do eat meat but usually only in times of drought or at ceremonial events.
  • Men usually wear only a blanket tied over one shoulder.

  • The pamphlet said that the women wear a goatskin but I didn’t see any women in goat skins.
  • Both sexes cut their hair very short and shave designs into it.
  • Although the Mursi have been in contact with Christian evangelist missionaries and have been influenced by nearby Muslim indigenous people, their main religion is classified as Animism.   In accordance with animistic traditions, people believe that all natural objects, like trees and even rocks, have spirits. They also practice a form of divination by reading cow entrails.
  • When a young person dies, their body is buried in the woods. But when an older person dies, people of the village fire off their rifles, inviting people from all around to come and celebrate. The person is buried behind the house. Then the wife or husband sits by the graveside facing towards their enemy (likely the Sudan) for 7 days.
  • The guide told us that girls are allowed to have sex before marriage with other boys. Sex with other than her husband is forbidden after marriage.
    This next part was a bit confusing but this is what I think I heard. If an unmarried girl should get pregnant before marriage, the family uses the intestines of the cow to determine who was the father. They may abort the child with natural medications.
    If they determine who the father is, there may be a very complicated process about punishment for father. Perhaps he is beaten. Perhaps killed by brother. Then the person who killed the father moves to another tribe. I don’t think I understood the rest.
  • They make porridge out of the maize.
  • Mursi design is often found on the left shoulder of the men and announces their passing into adulthood. The small dots that make up the scar are made with a razor blade. Dirt is then rubbed into the wound to make it stand out. I saw these scars on women.

  • The men used to carry a large stick (Dongo), which they used for fighting. This is, however, being replaced by the ubiquitous AS 47 assault rifle.
  • There are 4 types of marriage
    • Arranged marriage
    • Consensual marriage
    • Marriage through abduction – Ayu told us that this is now illegal but may still take place if both sets of parents agree,
    • Marriage by inheritance.
  • Stick fighting called Donga takes place between the Mursi men. A long wooden pole is used in combat. Holding the stick at one end, opponents strike blows at each other. It is a dangerous, fierce and artistic confrontation.
  • The women make porridge out of the maize.


Mostly I had so much fun taking photos of the people and being photographed with them.

This looks like same girl after she removed her headdress but her necklace is a bit different..

I love when Ayu is in my photos.

As I was  taking photos, the children all huddled around me to look at the photos on my camera. They would point and say the names of the people as we went through the photos.

Visiting the Mursi people was certainly a highlight of our trip. For me it made riding in the Land Cruiser on the rough roads well worth the bouncing. I have seen much better photos than I could ever take, but this time I was actually right there in their community.

On the way back to Jinka we crossed the stream where people were washing their clothes.

And others were washing their motorcycles.

Ayu told us that we  had some time before lunch to rest so Sue and Jane went back to the Jinka.  Sue calls it “Toes-Up Time” which is usually not in my vocabulary. So Ayu took me over to the restaurant where we had dinner last night and I looked over my photos and drank a cup of tea.

Ayu chose a new restaurant for lunch and we again tried the pizza. It tasted good, but even though it was scored, it very hard to cut the individual pieces.

Ayu ate his lunch with friends who were driving other Vast Tour groups. I think he must enjoy time with his friends and a break from answering our endless questions. I am certain that we have the best driver of all the tourists.

A bit after lunch, it was time to visit the Ari ethnic group.

Here are some facts about the Ari that I learned from the pamphlet.

  • The Ari boast the largest population of any of the ethno-linguistic groups of the Omo Valley. Their influence extends from the northern border of Mago National Park into the highlands around Jinka and Key Afer and maybe even further north.
  • Ari are mostly agriculturalists living in permanent villages. They produce the majority of the agricultural products in the Omo valley.
  • They are also involved in the production of the two principal cash crops (coffee and cardamom) as well as fruits and vegetables. Animal husbandry is their second major effort followed by craft activities, bee keeping, and trade.
  • Their calendar is based on the cycle of the moon. Each month begins on the day of the new moon and the year is divided into four seasons.
  • The family is the basic unit of Ari society. A man may marry as many wives as he wishes as long as he can afford the bride-wealth and other expenses of married life.
  • They consume more varied diet than the rest of the ethnic people of the region because they are permanent agriculturalists.
  • When they are in urban centers, the Ari mostly wear western clothing. It is only in the far rural areas that the Ari woman may be draped in the traditional gori-koysh, which is a dress, made with leaves from the enset and koysha plants. Their necks, arms and waist may be decorated with colorful beads and bracelets.
  • The Ari are the most ‘modern’ of the region’s ethnic groups.
  • The Ari have three types of marriages
    • Arranged marriage
    • Consensual marriage
    • Marriage by inheritance
  • They use a spear to protect themselves from enemies but do not use modern firearms.
  • They do have some conflicts with the Mursi and during those conflicts the Mursi suffer because of the lack of access to the markets of Jinka and Barka towns. I am not sure if this is still true. Ari live in harmony with the rest of their neighbors.

We stopped at an Ari market where Ayu found our guide and first we wandered through the village. The guide taught me how to say, “How are you?” which is the greeting in their language. Of course with my problems learning a new language, I have forgotten how to say it.

He showed us a papaya tree.

The men in this community build the houses.

We watched three different of women cooking injera. One was using maize; one used teff; and I think the 3rd woman used sorghum.

The woman took a mixture of something from a barrel.  She had already made one pan of injera.

Each of them first oiled the pan.

Then they each poured the mixture into a pan using a circular motion until the pan was filled.  Here are some of the photos I took of them.

Each woman made several pans of injera.

This is another community where the children love to have their photo taken.


This woman is one of the mothers in the community.

Ayu took a photo of Jane, Sue, and I with her.

We passed a girl who was studying for school. Some of these children go to school but they do not have support for their classes. This girl is in about 7th grade and learning about mixed fractions.

They were growing avocados and they sure looked good.


This is a place where people gather and we went inside for a bit.

Our guide showed us a handful of their coffee beans.

They grind coffee beans in this mortar.

There was a pile of beans.

I am not sure why some of the houses seem to be made from different materials.

I can’t remember the name of this tool.

I love taking photos of the people.

We were invited into one of the houses. It is very dark inside. I actually lightened this photo so you can see the inside better.

This boy is repairing a sandal.

Then we had a demonstration of grinding the clay by hand. They were making a new pan for cooking injera.

Scraping it….

.. and beginning to mold it.

Ayu was also taking photos of the children and letting the children see them. He has Eucalyptus leaves in his nose. I love watching how much he also enjoyed what we were doing. Watching Ayu with the children puts a huge smile on my face.


A girl showed me this pan and I touched it. I had no idea that the soot would rub off on my hand and after touching my own knee I saw that it was black.

Ayu took a photo of some of the children with Jane and me.

This is a wooden trough for feeding the animals.

We wandered through the marketplace where I took many photos of people and products.



and where Ayu took a photo of Jane, Sue, and I with the women who were selling local beer.  We didn’t drink any.

And Jane took a photo of Ayu with some of the people..

After the market the guide led us to a celebration.

All of a sudden Jane, Sue, and I were taken up to the front. They announced to everybody that we were from the United States of America and people cheered. It turns out that this was a celebration to raise money to build a new church. They brought each of us a bottle of coke to drink.

We each gave a donation for the church and began to leave. But then the dancing started. It didn’t seem like a formal tribal dance and I just couldn’t help myself from joining the dance. It was such great fun. Jane also was dancing.

Ayu and our guide took such wonderful care of us. I had been told by people who had been there that when I visited the tribes, I would have to pay 5 Birr to each person before I took photos but we did not have to worry about doing that.  I saw the guide slip money into the hands of at least the mother when we took a photo with her.  Some of the people put their hand out for money, but it wasn’t necessary.

We went back to the new restaurant, Besha Gojo, for dinner and each had a pretty good meal.   At dinner we had very interesting conversations with Ayu about Ethiopia history. He is very knowledgeable and we sure enjoy learning from him.

Our meals were topped off with wonderful real ginger tea.

Looking at the photos from this day and writing this post just brings back the joy I was feeling. What an incredible experience learning about two very different tribal groups.

Author: Nancy Panitch

Traveling has been a passion of Nancy Panitch's life and she loves seeing how people in other cultures live. Her travels have taken her to many places within the United States, Asia, Europe, South America, and Africa. Being around people inspires her and she has much gratitude for the kindred Souls that are joining together with her in body, mind, and heart. She moved from Chicago to Portland, Oregon in 1982. It was one of the best decisions of her life. While in Portland she stays very, VERY busy. She volunteers (Inter-Religious Action Network, Human Rights Council, & ushering for various theaters); attends a Unitarian Universalist church; goes hiking with groups (Cascade Prime Timers & Trails Club of Oregon) and also with individual friends. Book groups, movie group, and bridge groups occupy her time as well. Her quiet activities include yoga, knitting, Sudoku, and reading. She enjoys all of these activities, but making time to see her wonderful 4 grandchildren takes priority over it all. She is happy to share this blog and hopes to encourage others to travel.

3 thoughts on “Mursi and Ari Tribes – January 13th

  1. What a fantastic tour of Ethiopia you are giving your friends back home! Love the people photos!


  2. What a wonderful trip and so interesting for me to read all about it! Enjoy Aunt Nancy, Love you. Andy


  3. What wonderful people photos!! Love the children photos and especially Nancy with the group of children. Aye is a jewel of a guide. I think he is essential to your amazing trip.


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