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.


December 28th Addis to Bahir Dar

We left at 6:30 in the morning for a 558 km drive. It was supposed to take about 10 ½ hours.  Although I knew that roads in Ethiopia would be rough, I wasn’t fully prepared for the road conditions.  The traffic leaving Addis Ababa was very dense.  We slowly made our way out of the the city and eventually onto the dirt road.  There were people lined up all along the opposite side of the road waiting for busses to take them into Addis for work.  There were also hoards of Bajaj (tuk-tuks) picking up people.

After several hours we arrived at Debre Libanos Monastery.  There was a sign on the door where Ayu was purchasing our tickets that stated some rules about entering the church.

  • Rule # 1 said that women during menstruation period are not allowed to enter the church.
  • Rule # 2 said that men and women who had sexual intercourse are not allowed to enter the church or the cave within 48 hours.

After we removed our shoes and covered our heads, a monk gave us a tour of the church. The monk told us about Saint Tekle Haymanot who founded Debre Libanos in the 13th century.  According to myth, he meditated in a cave for 29 years.  After the first 27 years, one of his legs fell off from about the knee down but he continued to stand for another 2 years.  The monk told us that the original monastery had been completely destroyed.  None of the original buildings survived.  I think it was Emperor Haile Selassie who rebuilt the monastery in about 1961.

The church has many glass stained windows depicting both the Old and New Testament.  The inside of the church is divided into 3 parts. During church services when you are facing the front of the church, the right side is for woman, the center is for priests and monks, and the left side is for men.  I mostly took photos of the people who came to pray.


The white-stringy thing in this man’s hands is used to keep the insects off of him.

We also toured the museum part of the monastery. The grounds of the monastery are very large and include the hilly areas around it.  We were told that 5000 people are served by Debre Libanos Monastery.  The grounds have housing for the monks and also a cemetery

There is a cave located about a 15 – 20 minute walk from the monastery.  This was where Saint Tekle Haymanot lived in the nearby cliffs and it contains a spring with water that  is considered holy.  Sadly we did not have enough time to walk there because we had many more km to drive..

The roads were very, very rough.  Even the parts that were paved had many potholes and were covered with ruts. We were bounced around on both the potted gravely road and on some of the paved roads also had rutts almost the entire time.  Sometimes it was very dusty and we had to keep our windows closed.


When we went through towns and I took photos.  Although I was sometimes able to open a window, the photos are mostly taken through the closed windows.

We drove down to the bottom of Blue Nile gorge descending over 2200 meters and then crossed the new bridge built by Ethiopians.  It was much warmer at the bottom (about 37 Celsius.) but the temperature cooled down again as we drove back up the other side on a road that was still pretty rough.

We stopped for the view at the top.

It was pretty hazy in the distance so we used the opportunity to ask Ayu to take  a photo of the 3 of us..

You can see the road (a well paved part) as it descends.

We saw several baboons along the road but I didn’t get any good photos..

We saw some people who were working in the fields threshing the hay

The thistles along the road had the largest blooms I have ever seen..

Each time we came to a town, there were people along the road.  They were carrying things on their heads, leading donkeys that were carrying large loads, selling things, and many of them were going to church. Today was a holy day and they were celebrating Saint Gabriel.

At one point Ayu stopped and asked women to bring over some teff, which is the grain, they use to make injera (flat, crepe like sour bread made from the grain). After we each had a chance to see the teff, he gave the handful of grain back to her.

At one point we saw more vultures than I have ever seen in one place.  They were devouring the carcass of what we thought was a cow.

It sure seemed like a very long time before we stopped for lunch in Debra Marcos where we ate injera and vegetables.

This is a religious period during which many people are fasting and can only eat vegetables.  I even tried a small spoon of the coffee this time – not bad tasting but not my choice of beverage.

One time when we stopped to look at the view, Ayu asked a couple of women to be in a photo with me.  It was sure fun to show the photo to them.

It was a very long drive but we stopped to look at the sunset.

We continued to go through small towns.  A couple of times when we were driving very slowly, children surrounded our vehicle begging for money.  Ayu kept driving very slowly as they moved away.  At one point at dusk a very large group of children and teenagers surrounded us. They were pounding on the vehicle and one of them hit it with his stick.  Ayu jumped out and was yelling at them perhaps about damaging our Land Cruiser when some of them yanked open one of the back passenger doors.  It took both Sue and Leigh to pull the door shut again and we locked the doors.  I took one photo of Ayu when he was outside of the car.  We heard him say the word, “tourists” and we think he was lecturing them about how bad their behavior was for tourism. He finally got back into the vehicle and we were able to drive off slowly. Ayu told us that because of the holy day, the teens might have been drinking too much.

Sue, Jane, and Leigh were concerned that they might injure Ayu.  Finally he got back into the jeep and we slowly were able to drive off.

We didn’t arrive at Abay Minch Lodge until after 7:00 where we had a buffet dinner and went to our rooms.