Reckoned by enthusiasts to be one of Africa’s premier location for white water river rafting, its early fury takes it through gorges hundreds of meters deep and over fish, crocodile and hippo. On the final leg of its journey south to Turkana, the Omo forms the border between Kefa and Gamo Gofa provinces. It’s here that Ethiopia’s largest nature sanctuary, the Omo National park is located, with belts of forest, hot springs and extensive wilderness.
The park is one of the richest in spectacle and yet one of the least-visited areas in East and Central Africa. Most easily accessed from the town of Jinka, another sanctuary, the Mago National park, has been establishing on the eastern bank of the river, comprising mainly savanna, with some forestes areas. The highest point is Mount Mago, in the north of the park.
Both park offer incredible spectacles of big game. Both also have the merit of being far from the beaten track and virtually unexplored, and thus are place in which game can be seen in a truly natural state.
The parks are extensive wilderness areas and wildlife can be prolific: large herds of eland and buffalBuffalo in Mago and Omo National Parko, elephant, giraffe, cheetah, lion, leopard, and Burchell’s zebra, Lesser kudu lelwel hartebeest, topi, and oryx are all resident species, as well as deBrazza’s and colobus monkeys and Anubis baboon. The 306 bird species recorded in the Omo Nation park include meny that will be familiar to East African visitors. Birds include bustards, hornbills, weavers and starlings, with kingfishers and herons along the river.
On the fringes of the national parks, the lower Omo valley is home to a remarkable mix of small, contrasting ethnic groups—not only the Bume and the Karo, but also the geleb, the Bodi, the Mursi and the Surma, the Erbore and the Hamer, to name but a few. Lifestyles are as varied as the people themselves. The Mursi and Surma, who mix basic subsistence cultivation with small-scale cattle-herding, lead lives of harsh simplicity, uncluttered by the pressures and anxieties of the modern world outside.
They are renowned for the strange custom followed by their women who, on reaching maturity, have their lower lips slit and circular clay discs inserted. The larger the disc the more desirable the wearer!
The Mursi warriors still follow the custom of carving deep crescent-shaped incision in their arms to show the number of enemies they have killed in battle.
The Surma and Karo utilize various clays and vegetable dyes to trace amazing patterns on one another’s faces, chests, arms and legs. Hamer women wear their hair in dense ringlets smeared with mud and ghee. If they are lucky to find some strips of shiny metal, they add one or two to their hairstyle. Most trendy are the aluminum plate hanging from their foreheads. Jewellery tends to be simple but string- colourful necklaces, chunky metal wrists and armlets, shiny nails appended to skirts, multiple earrings and so on. Karo and Geleb sclpt their hair with mud into extravagant shapes, topped off with a redochred mud “cap” to hold an ostrich feather or two. Goatskins are plentiful and most women wear leather skirts, often embroidered with colourful beadwork or cut into long strips.