Camping with the Mursi tribe, Omo Valley

With a bit of anxiety  we reached the Mursi village. After 17 hours of tough travelling from Addis Abeba we found the village where we would stay for the coming week. Fortunately the roads had dried up after the rainy season so we did not get stuck on the way.

For 15 years visiting the Mursi had been on the top of my bucket list.. Now we were finally here. However Mursi people are known to be hostile to foreigners and sometimes intoxicated from homebrewed alcohol.

Through my travel network I had come into contact with Andualem – our fixer/guide and chairman of the Omo Valley Guide association. He claimed to be the only guide in the valley to bring visitors camping with the tribes. And he said only around 5 times a year he brought people to the remote village we went to (typically journalists/photographers).

It turned out that we had no reason fearing the Mursis. They were kind and curious. Bringing two blond kids aged 6 and 8 probably did not make things worse.

During the week we were there we attended the following ceremonies:

  1. Jugular Vein Ceremony. A bull is shot with an arrow. Rope is tied around it’s neck and about two liters of blood is taken from it. Afterwards the kids drink the blood for nutrition.
  2. Wedding Ceremony. Took place in neighboring village at 6 am. We always missed it. Includes dancing, negotiating for dowry (cattle), shooting AK47s in the air (Mursi used to have only wooden sticks to defend themselves and their cattle but since other tribes have gotten kalashnikovs they have too).
  3. Namegiving Ceremony. Took place in very warm thatched hut with an incredible number of people inside.
  4. Donga (stickfighting) ceremony – illegal and takes place a secret place in the bush maybe 10 times a year. Different clans/villages young men fight as an important manhood ritual. We got chased away after about an hour by fierce warriors who demanded (more) money.

During day the Mursi men went herding their cattle. Mursi women were cooking and working in their village. We spent the days playing with the kids (we had brought frisbees and water guns) and talking to the women. Mursi children do not go to school. My daughter Ava tried to teach them danish from her school books. And Charlotte assisted as call-in doctor with her supply of antibiotics etc.

Watch a trailer here:

After the Mursi visit we spent a few days driving around in the Omo valley:

  • We watched the Hamer “Jumping of the Bull” Ceremony (an initiation ceremony for a you Hamer man – his clans women are whipped to show sacrifice and he himself must jump naked over a row of bulls a number of times.
  • We stayed a night in the bush with the Banna people
  • We visited a Karo (masters of bodypainting) local village.

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