Left Continue shopping
Your Order

You have no items in your cart

Free Shipping | 30-Day Money Back

Blog / Ethiopia

Living On The Brink: The Omo Valley Tribes of Ethiopia

The Omo Valley in southern Ethiopia is as picturesque as it comes. Hills, mountains, rivers, graceful waterfalls, jungles and numerous exotic wild animals and plants all converge in this one area. The grand Omo River snakes through the region emptying in Lake Turkana at the Kenyan border.

The earliest known discovery of human fossil fragments was found in the lower Omo Valley and Lake Turkana (which is mostly in Kenya). With this precious discovery, the area was declared a World Heritage site by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Nestled in this beautiful setting are 15 tribal groups living in the hills and the banks along the Omo River. It’s estimated that over 200,000 tribal people call the Omo Valley home. In this isolated corner of the world, these tribes have lived for centuries developing their own distinct and rich customs. Each tribe has different body markings, clothing, hairstyles and beliefs. 

The Tribes - A diverse group of people live in the Omo Valley. But the various tribes in the region do share some commonalities, such as their reliance on the Omo River as an essential resource. Most tribes rely on the annual flooding of the river. Cattle, goats and sheep are also essential to most of the tribes’ livelihoods. For the tribes, traditions are important and many involve some sort of body adornment or fancy headdress.


Here are some traditions of the Omo Valley tribes:
  • The Mursi: The Mursi’s traditions include body painting, decorative scarring and piercing. Some Mursi women still hold onto the tradition of piercing and then slowly stretching their lower lip with a clay plate, up to 18cm (7in) wide. The lip plate is done to attract a spouse. There are few mirrors around so boys usually paint one another with elaborate designs. Mothers paint their babies, so the traditions start young.
  • The Suri Tribe: The Suri use flora and fauna for decoration. They make elaborate head ornaments from leaves and branches.
  • The Karo Tribe: The Karo paint their bodies and faces with white chalk to prepare for ceremonies. They sometimes wear face masks and clay hair buns with feathers stuck into them. The women sometimes scar their chests, believing it makes them beautiful. Men also scar themselves, representing an enemy or dangerous animal they’ve killed.
  • The Hamar Tribe (also known as the Hammer or Hamer): The Hamar people wear colorful bracelets and beads in their hair. Some women wear circular wedge necklaces to show they are married. Men wear hair ornaments to represent a kill of an enemy or animal. Men also paint themselves with white chalk for ceremonies.


Join Zawadee Mailing Lists


Outside Influences - There are no written languages or calendars among the tribes, but they’re not immune from outside influences. Today, as a result of recent conflicts in Sudan, nearly every family in the Omo Valley owns an automatic weapon—an AK47 being the weapon of choice. Perhaps most alarmingly, the tribes’ very way of life may be threatened by the Gibe III dam—a controversial hydro-electric dam set to open later this year. Salini Costruttori, an Italian construction company, began work on the dam in 2006. The US $1.8 billion project is about 90% complete.

The dam is expected to more than double the electrical output in Ethiopia to about 1870 Megawatts. In addition to the almost completed dam project, others are encroaching on tribal lands. In 2011, the Ethiopian government began to lease sections of the Lower Omo region to large Malaysian, Italian, Indian and Korean companies. Sugar and cotton plantations are springing up in the area, all of which are eating up precious tribal land. Tribal grain stores and cattle grazing land are being destroyed and some tribes are even being forced into resettlement areas. Obviously these are complex issues where the rights of all Ethiopians must be balanced, but someone must look out for the more vulnerable groups in the area. Fortunately, international and domestic efforts are underway to protect the precarious way of life for the tribal people in the Omo Valley. Hopefully their efforts to preserve these fascinating cultures won’t be too late. 

Try our Ethiopian Micro-Lot Coffee - Small Batches, Single-Origin

Micro Lot Single Origin Coffee
Read more

A Taste of Africa: Chicken in Spicy Red Sauce

Getting to know Africa includes experiencing the vastly different - and yummy - expressions of each culture through food.

Spicy Ethiopian Red Sauce has long been a favourite in our family. You can prepare the spice blend ahead and use it on all sorts of things. We use it to flavour salmon, chicken breasts or thighs, steaks or even on shrimp.

We guarantee you'll love this dish. Some recipes we've seen suggest a dollop of yogurt on top just before serving. It is delicious! We love sharing our family recipes with you but please remember you can search online and find lots of variations on this dish and other terrific African recipes. An online recipe site we use over and over again is The Congo Cookbook. My East Africa Journal is also a great source for recipes. As pretty much always, while most recipes specify chicken breasts, you can certainly substitute an equal amount of chicken thighs. Frankly, we find thighs more flavourful.


  • 2 pounds of boneless chicken breasts or thighs
  • 4 lemon wedges
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh cilantro (We don't like cilantro so we use broad leaf parsley instead)
  • 3 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt (We prefer sea salt)
  • 1 small can of tomato paste
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine (Use something with a good strong flavour)
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil (We use a canola/olive oil blend)
  • 2 medium size onions, chopped (rough chop)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
Berbere Spice Mix
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 tablespoons ground red pepper
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger

Remember, as with all our family recipes, these ingredients are approximate. Play to your taste by varying the spice amounts according to your family taste.


  1. Combine all the Berbere Spice Mix Ingredients in a bowl
  2. Put your chicken into a shallow baking dish and sprinkle it with lemon and half the salt.
  3. Marinate your chicken (covered) for at least an hour in the fridge.
  4. In a large deep frying pan, saute your onion and garlic in olive oil. Don't burn it!
  5. Take about 2 teaspoons of the Berbere Spice Mix and add to your onion and garlic along with the rest of the salt, butter, ginger, cardamom and nutmeg.
  6. Saute, blending the spices, onion and garlic. This only takes about a minute or two at most.
  7. Then add the tomato paste, wine and broth. Stir well to blend and bring up to just a boil.
  8. Now add the marinated chicken. (Take it out of fridge so it isn't super cold when you add it).
  9. Now put a lid on your pan and reduce the heat to a nice simmer.
  10. It should take about an hour to cook the chicken. Make sure you turn the pieces over a few times.
  11. When chicken is done, you can stir in the cilantro (or broad leaf parsley).
  12. Place a lemon wedge on the edge of each serving plate.

A little tip? This chicken is excellent cold as well. Not that there will be any left! There are lots of variations of Spicy Red Sauce. Search online for other ways to create this tasty concoction. Enjoy! And please let us know how you enjoy this recipe and any creative culinary modifications you make. 

Subscribe to Zawadee Newsletter

Read more

The Tigray of Ethiopia & Eritrea

Keepers of the Ark of the Convenant?  The Ark of the Convenant was venerated in the First Temple of Jerusalem during the reign of Solomon (circa 970-930). Then, it vanished!!

For centuries, Ethiopian Christians have claimed that the Ark of the Covenant is housed in a chapel in the town of Aksum, located in the northern highlands of the Tigray state. The Chapel of the Tablet at the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Axum allegedly houses the original Ark of the Covenant.

They claim it arrived about 3,000 years ago and has been closely guarded by anointed monks who are forbidden to ever set foot outside the chapel grounds. The majority of the Tigray people are located in Tigray state in Ethiopia, although some reside in Eritrea. The regions they occupy are, for the most part, a high plateau, separate from the Red Sea by an escarpment and a desert. Most of the Tigray people place a high value on their verbal skills. Therefore, poetry, riddles, tales and puns are part of Tigray entertainment. In fact, they engage in the art of "poetic combat". Many heroic figures in Tigray folklore are known for their skill and the clever ability they had to compose poetic couplets. Tekle Haymanot, an Ethiopian Saint, (pictured below) is reputed to have verbally outwitted the devil!

The Tigray and the Amhara people were converted to Christianity hundreds of years before most of Europe. The arrival of Christianity in Tigrayan lands is dated to about the same time as Christianity arrived in Ireland. The church is a very central feature of Tigray communities, most communities having a church with a patron saint. Most Tigray holidays are associated with the church calendar. Tigray art is also associated with the church. The church architecture alone is amazing with many churches cut into solid stone (as pictured below). Icon painting is also popular. 

They have a lovely way of greeting each other. As a sign of respect, a stranger may be greeted with "khamihaduru", which means "how are you, my honoured equal". Pretty nice, in our opinion! The Tigray don't consume much alcohol, certainly in the rural areas where the household beer that is brewed is low in alcohol content. Honey wine is also brewed but is usually reserved for special occasions. Most houses start out as "gujji", a practical, unassuming structure, with a thatched roof. Later, a family may add masonry walls and a domed roof. If very successful, stone walls may be added around the yard. As a matter of fact, guests often bring stones with them to be added to the walls. A charming practice and a sign of respect. Traditional clothing is white with very little embellishment. Men and women both wear a gabbi (a shawl like garment). Food is often a problem. There simply is rarely enough to go around. Many households receive government subsidies to compensate for lack of available food. Bread is an important staple and is often eaten with a spicy stew. Families and guests eat "messob" style (from a shared food basket), breaking off pieces of bread from the communal basket and dipping it into the stew which is placed in the centre of the basket..

Church music and praise songs are important to the Tigray. Church deacons may sing and accompany the voices with drums and a marroca-like, shaken instrument called at "sistrum". A game much like field hockey is played but in a cross-country manner! Some seriously sports-minded Tigray "grow" their own hockey sticks by training saplings into the desired curve. While like field hockey, the Tigray play across country - even through creeks and over fences! Now that's track and field combined with field hockey! The Tigray are a fascinating people, with interesting customs and traditions. Don't miss any of our articles, blogs, updates or recipes! Sign up for email updates.  

Subscribe to Zawadee Newsletter


Read more