Daasanach People

I sat in a small coffee shop in Turmi, a village in south-western Ethiopia. I was chatting with my guide Ephrem and enjoying a freshly brewed cup of the local Ethiopian coffee. Ephrem was constantly talking and joking with other visitors at the coffee shop. I didn’t understand a word Amharic and couldn’t tell what he was joking about. But the vibe was great and I was enjoying Ephrem’s company. From time to time, he would translate a joke or interactions with others. Suddenly, a young guy in his early twenties approached our table. He addressed Ephrem first, glancing at me a few times. Ephrem turned to me and asked whether I was interested in meeting the Daasanach people. Their village was three hours away from Turmi. I didn’t have any plans and agreed to travel to that place. As soon as we had finished our breakfast and coffee, we headed in the direction towards Omorate, a border town with Kenya.

After three hours of driving we reached our destination. We stopped at the Dasfeel café for lunch. Here Ephrem suggested a new plan. I was introduced to a local guide, Abel. Although Abel lived in Omorate, he belonged to the Daasanach tribe. He spoke the language of the tribe and was fluent in Amharic and English and knew some Italian. Abel and I crossed the Omo River together in a dug-out canoe, while Ephrem would wait for me in Omorate. Abel told me that the Daasanach people were mainly pastoralists. He also said that some families started to grow sorghum, maize, pumpkins, and beans. The land where they lived was dry and inhospitable, and living conditions were harsh. There were many diseases along the Omo River, including diseases caused by theTsetse fly. Sleeping sickness and Malaria were a big problem among the Daasanach people. 

Upon our arrival in the village, we were greeted by some thirty people. They danced and sang songs. I didn’t expect such attention and felt a bit uncomfortable. I joined the people who were dancing. Frankly, I didn’t know what I was doing. I tried to copy their dance moves and just hoped that I didn’t look too ridiculous. After the dance, Abel showed me a hut built by the villagers. Huts were made of branches. They had good ventilation, which is particularly important in the local climate. There was only one door. Inside the hut was an area where animal skins were laid for sleeping. The area also was used for storage purposes. 

I asked Abel about female genital mutilation. He told me that circumcision was a common practice in both genders. A girl who isn’t circumcised can’t wear certainclothing or get married. I noticed that the guide was not comfortable about the topic of the conversation and I decided to not ask him any more questions. I walked around the huts for one hour or so. I bought two pairs of earrings made by the villagers. One of the villagers offered me drink, I assumed it was the strong liquor called araki and politely declined. Suddenly it started to rain. I thanked my guide for the incredible hospitality and we left the village. We needed to cross the Omo before twilight.

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