Waking up with the Hamar tribe in Omo Valley, Ethiopia

Note: this story was written just after leaving the Hamar village in mid January 2014. I had not yet seen my photos and do my best to match moments here but the written is often between the photos.DSC01826

The wind howled all night shaking my hammock. I woke up hourly but happy to open my eyes to a knew sky each time.  Once with the most stars all night, once thinking the northern lights were there, once with fast looking clouds whose formation I cannot recall but I used to know the name of, once with a half moon, next time the land was lit and if I walked to the hut house I would not need a headlamp to light my way much like an Alaskan moon in winter.

I awoke rested but I always do in my hammock. Straight up. I gathered my bag and things and went up to the hut house to watch the sunrise.  I could see the fire burning inside but was shy to enter or say anything.  I stood looking to the east. One of the wives came out and looked at me.  I smiled but her expression did not change.  She looked at me like I was a criminal.  An alien.  I looked back and said with my expression, “you’re the one with red clay in your hair, copper rings on your arms and boobs hanging out”. I really didn’t  but it sounds good on paper. A boy naked all but a red beaded necklace, ran out of the house hut smiling and chattering. He stopped at one of our 2 L water bottles and began to pick it up. It was have his size but he was determined and overflowingly happy about getting it up.  He hurried toward the hut and one of the women yelled something.  He stopped and turned in my direction.  Smiling ear to ear the little head with a curly Mohawk came at me. I saw the safey plastic was still on the cap and pulled it off. He clapped.  I unscrewed it and motioned towards him. He bent his knees and tilted his head back ready to receive to mouth of the bottle.  I laughed and tipped it forward. Slowly he sank his knees in sink with the tipping. A precious professional.  Our meeting adjourned and he went back to the hut.


The wind still howled and the cocks crowed. A man walked by and motioned me into the hut as he climbed in. I was a bit shy and also really wanted to see the sunrise. I thought about how my staying outside when invited might be confusing.  I don’t think people in these type societies get offended easily but at the same time, why am I standing outside looking at the sunrise when they are inside doing what they do at sunrise. OK, and Emany is still asleep in the jeep. One of the women come out and is also looking at me like a space alien.  I’m tellin them, its them that does, I look pretty normal. Anyway, when  I smile and say “selum”, she smiles broadly and waves me inside.  I enter the smoky hut and sit on the cow hide next to a small pile of Ethiopian babies. One of the wives hands me a half gourd with a scoop of buna chai in it. I accept with my right hand and wait for it to cool for a minute. Two men chatter idly while sipping buna. The first unraveled baby pees and it runs across the dirt floor by my feet and the men lift their feet as it tries to wet them. As the fire crackled and its warm glow filled the room, Emany crawled in through the entrance where he was handed some buna chai. DSC01824


I took a few photos somewhat reluctantly even though we were told to do as we please.  It was Emanys family and they are proud Hamar people.  They don’t want what the rest of the world has.  They just want their simple lives.  Emany says as long as there is rain each year the Hamar of this area will not change for 100 years. After spending only one night there and watching them I can believe Emany. As for many of the other Hamar closer to the road, I am not so sure. One thing is for sure though, all of the tribes outright reject religion so the missionary effect does not exist slowing change towards western ways.



Now neighbor kids piled in to the hut and stared at me. I was charmed instantly and took some pictures to show them. They squealed with delight as I clicked through the photographs. They crawled all over me, all snotty and dirty. The light was poor and I don’t know how to set a camera manually so I went for a video (to be posted). My joints were aching from being hunched over so I stepped out in to the bright morning light.




Tesfu handed me a nice bread with local honey.  Delicious. The baby who I had giving the water ran to me smiling with his hand up while the older kids just stared at me.  I tore off some of the bread and handed it to him.  He was mobbed by the others but he tore little pieces off and made sure they all got some. I gave him another piece which he also shared. Tesfu gave them some sort of dried bean or nut.  The kids handed them out to make sure everybody got some. I was furthest from Tesfu but still connected by the troop of kids. The last one handed me a small handful of the nuts. I thanked him and he nodded.



Little boys run naked with their units hanging out and little girls have a little muff cover. The Hamer are as emphatic about covering the vagina as they are about their cowhide skirts being buttered, literally, and kept up.  The women are devoted to their fashion and like their men’s hair doe in clay. One more reason that I am a biological loser to them.

Though Emany had bought a gift for the village for our visit, the chief stared at my t-shirt. The shirt is of KSUA radio in Fairbanks, Alaska, our local college station.I pinched the cloth in my hands and pulled it out looking at him and grunting. “Eh?” “Eh”, he nodded yes.  I went and changed out of it and in to another. Of course, a new photo shoot was in order as this man in this shirt would win me some points back home with someone.



DSC01858Emany, his cousin’s family, and me January 21, 2014.


P.S. This hammock is one of the best investments I have ever made and makes people in Africa break down in hysterics when I crawl in.

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26 thoughts on “Waking up with the Hamar tribe in Omo Valley, Ethiopia

    • This was such a pure experience in the sense that these people really were not affected by western ideals. It’s about as stone age as it comes I think. They are so kind. IT really makes one realize that people are good at the core.


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