Traveling Nancy

Traveling around the world as far as I can go.

Arbore People and Konzo People – Jan 16


This morning Ayu said we have an adventure today. He must have meant the roads. I began writing about the roads on the first day of this trip and I think we have become so used to them that continual bouncing just seemed commonplace. Still we are just amazed at how Ayu knows which road to take when presented with a few choices and there are no signs or discernible landmarks. Today Susan said that these roads make our forest service roads look like highways. We were driving above a dry riverbed and the rocks and dips were hard to believe. Ayu said that they even drive these roads in the raining season which is almost unbelievable. I tried to take a couple of photos but we seem to have just come out of a dip when I click the camera and you can’t see the drop-offs over the side or the depth of the dip.

After we passed the most difficult parts of the road but still passing through places where we would think we would not be seeing any people, we passed some Hamar people.  Ayu said they were either going for water or possibly some were going to visit family but not to take photos.

In addition to keeping us on the road, Ayu is so excellent at spotting birds along the road.  He said that this one is a Kori Bustard and we actually saw two together.  They are the largest flying birds that are native to Africa.


Then we passed a stork-like bird.

Ayu found a guide for us and we visited the Arbore People who are also known as Ulde.  They live in the hot plains area.  When the Arbore first migrated to this area they stayed around the river where it was green.

These are  their houses.  The women can build a house out of papyrus in one day.

This papyrus is ready to be used to build a house.

There is a flat area in front of the house where people can rest and stay cool.

We entered one of these areas and sat with the family while our guide talked with us.

Then we went inside the portion of the house where they cook and eat.  Inside the house there is a room for children, an area for guests, and a kitchen area where the parents sleep.

There was a fire burning in the kitchen area.

Maize and sorghum were hanging in kitchen.

The area was extremely dry and the cattle seemed very skinny. This is the place where they keep their livestock to protect them from Hyenas.

Here are some facts about the Arbore mostly read in A Guide to the Ethnic Groups Omo Valley Southern Ethiopia by Minalu Adem and some from learned from our guide.

  • These people are pastoralists. Yet, livestock have high economic and social value for the Arbore. In times of drought the Arbore temporarily move their cattle to the neighboring Tsemay and Borena where they have peaceful and cooperative relations.
  • They practice a slash and burn shifting cultivation method of agriculture, which is dependent upon the flooding of the Woito River and the seasonal rains.
  • Girls and women are adorned with beads and bracelets. They dress in skirts made from skin uniquely designed and decorated with beads and pieces of metal.
  • Unmarried girls shave their hair clean and put a black piece of cloth on top of their head for the sun protection. Abore men wrap a white piece of cloth on their heads.
  • Commonly when a boy reaches marriage age, his father will choose a wife for him and will send four elders to the bride’s family. The elders take with them a stick (called a sheniqur) and the abdominal fat of a slaughtered goat. If the bride’s family accepts the marriage, they will take the abdominal fat and place it on their shoulder. The two families will then meet and find a date for the wedding. The groom will prepare honey, coffee, and tobacco for the bride wealth.
  • On the wedding day, both families contribute four cattle, which will be slaughtered for a feast. Relatives and friends eat, drink, sing and dance. In the afternoon, the bride will be circumcised and taken to the house of the groom’s family. A sheep is slaughtered and the tail is cooked and eaten by the bride and the groom. Then their hands are tied together with a piece of skin.
  • When an adult male dies, all his jewelry is buried with him. Relatives will put butter and milk in his mouth with a new gourd and the corpse is covered with a new cloth and sheepskin. Then the relatives will ask the dead person to bless his cattle. Finally, four individuals will take the corpse and bury it. Following this ritual, it is believed that his cattle will be safe.
  • A few days after he is buried, a ritual called awal will follow. A goat will be slaughtered and one of the un-skinned legs will be placed on the grave of the dead person. The grave will be covered with abdominal fate. The eldest son will then inherit his father’s wealth and must promise to distribute his father’s cattle to his paternal uncles and younger brothers. A feast is prepared for relatives and friends.
  • At the beginning of the rainy season, when new grass starts to grow, the Arbore prepare a ritual to bless the new grass so that it is healthy for their cattle.  All the cattle are gathered in one place for the occasion.  Four wooden gates will be prepared and the cattle are herded through.  Participants then drink coffee with butter and milk.  Finally, boys and girls dance and a blessing by the elders and the kawet (spiritual leader) follows.
  • Among the many ethnic groups, the Arbore are considered a peaceful people and live in relative harmony with the other ethnic groups. This has been attributed to the mutual sharing of their resources with other groups, intermarriage between the Arbore and their neighboring ethnic groups, their ability to speak multiple languages, and a surviving legend professing the evils of attacking the Arbore.
  • They have been taught about the infections and deaths caused by girl circumcision so the incidents of this may have been reduced but may still be happening.
  • Boys are still circumcised at age 7.

Marriages for Abore People

  • Arranged marriage
  • Consensual marriage
  • Marriage through abduction (government has made this illegal but it sometimes still takes place if both sets of parents agree).
  • Marriage by inheritance.

We had to pay 5 birr for each photo of a person that we took. The people gathered all around us wanting photos taken of them. If there were 3 people in the photo, I paid 15 birr. I had many 5 birr notes in my pocket so I just kept taking as many photos as I could in the time we were there. The people gathered all around us wanting us to take photos.



After this visit with Arbore, we drove back to the Kanta lodge for lunch.  That is where we dropped of Leigh 3 nights ago.

After lunch we found Leigh. It turns out that she was not feeling well for the past few days so she had slept much of the time.

Ayu went into town to get our passes to visit the Konso People and came back with a guide.  Leigh had already visited the Konso when we were gone so just Jane, Sue, and I went with Ayu and the guide.

Here are some facts about the Konso people I learned from the guide and from the Bradt book on Ethiopia which Sue brought with her on the trip.

  • The Konso people number 300,000. The village we visited has about 12,000. They are hardworking people and are well-known for their expert terracing and are able to make the most of the hard, rocky slopes.

  • They tend to shun coffee beans and prefer the leaves ground into a fine powder and with sunflower seeds and spices.
  • They started their villages on top of hills.
  • Konso villages, known as kantas, are built into the hillsides and encircled with stone walls for protection. The winding paths that weave through the village all lead to the mora, a large, thatched pavilion which acts as a special meeting place for the people of the surrounding villages. At night all of the unmarried men sleep here to protect the community and learn about life.  If anybody in the community needs assistance, they are the ones to help.  This is the central mora.

  • The people may not marry within their own family compound because of genetics.
  • They are weavers.  As we walked through the village we passed a woman spinning cotton…

…and then later we also passed a man spinning the cotton.

  • Some of the walls are hundreds of years old and are built up to 2 meters high.

The wall is much taller than Jane and Sue.

These are the stones that were placed on top of some walls.

  • The settlements each usually have up to four entrance gates and can be reached only via a few steep footpaths.
  • Each compound of people has it own community center (a mora). All boys 12 years of age and over are required to sleep in the top of the center until they’re are married (and even married men stay there). This tradition stems from a time when the village needed to be protected from enemies.  The lower area serves as a shaded place where villages – men, boys and girls, but not grown women can relax, gossip, play and make important communal decisions.

  • Each clan has its own leader and when that leader dies, the son takes over.
    • When the leader dies, his body is kept for 9 years, 9 months, 9 days, and 9 hours before it is buried. The body is treated to keep it from deteriorating in a way that will cause diseases
  • There is a leader of all the clans who is chosen from one of the clan leaders every 18 years.
    • A generation pole (olahita) is in the middle of the ceremonial square (usually the oldest mora). Every 18 years a pole (harvested from the pokalla’s sacred forest) is added to the outside. You can tell the age of a visit by counting the poles and multiplying by 18.

  • Some gravesites have carved markers that show the heroism of the person who died – what animals he killed.

  • Their Religions include Orthodox Christian, Evangelical Protestants, and Animistic.
  • They all get along with no fighting.
  • Boys have to be strong enough to throw a 50 kg rock over their head before they can marry. Usually it is at about age 25.  This boy demonstrated practicing with a smaller stone.

  • Girls also don’t marry until about 22 + years of age.
  • Dakatu village is the oldest and largest one. It has 43 generation poles, which indicate an age of around 740 years and 5500 people.

Whenever I was able, I took some photos of people and structures as we walked through the village.

I loved the way the arch-ways were created.

There was a church within the community.

It would have been fun to take the time to watch these men play this game.

Before we left the village, Sue and I each purchased a shawl created in this village.  The cotton is very soft.

We really enjoyed walking through the Konso village with the walls on either side of us and being able to observe the people as they naturally went on with their daily lives.  I felt much less obtrusive visiting the Konso people than other groups we have visited.  It was not that we were unwelcome when we were in the other villages and it is hard to describe my feelings.  I know that tourists have been visiting African villages and photographing the people for many years.  I am just reflecting on what effect tourists certainly have had on the people and their lives.

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.

4 thoughts on “Arbore People and Konzo People – Jan 16

  1. The photos and story are amazing! Thanks for sharing.


  2. The Konzo people seem very sensible, not marrying too young. I am impressed by the large and probably old logs used in some of their structures and arches. The hills looked quite bare of timber.
    The differences in each ethnic group cultures is striking. Good job Nancy.


  3. Fantastic people shots and very interesting shots of the villages!


  4. Great. great photos, Nancy! Thanks!


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