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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.


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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

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Are you really drinking coffee?

Or just a warm, brown beverage? All kidding aside, we actually have a friend who says just that. Her theory is that if you are only going to have a couple of cups a day, you should truly have the best coffee experience possible.

A self-admitted "coffee snob", she boycotts many of the more popular national coffee chains, claiming that what they sell is "just a warm, brown beverage" but not coffee. She finds it hard to believe that people who will go to great lengths to buy the best wine for their dollar, don't apply the same logic to the coffee they consume on a daily basis. So, how do you ensure you are drinking great coffee?

Buy the best coffee beans you can afford. Locate a roaster of single origin, micro-lots who only roast in small batches and ship each batch within a few days of roasting. Stop buying "grocery store", pre-ground coffee. Coffee brands that dominate the grocery store aisles roast a phenomenal amount of coffee per year. They bank on their customers either believing they can't afford a better coffee or keep drinking inferior coffee due to inertia and lack of knowledge. So, they often blend Arabica with lower-quality Robusta coffee beans.

Our aforementioned, coffee-centric friend says "you may as well brew sawdust"! Never buy the coffee beans in the gravity-feed displays in grocery stores. You have no idea how long those beans have been around since roasted. Furthermore, if you use the store grinder (part of the coffee bean display), you run the risk of "contaminating" your selection with other flavours that have been run through the grinder. We once (in desperation, because we had run short of our supply of single origin/micro-lot/fresh roast) bought a small amount of beans from the grocery offering and ground them on the spot. When we brewed the coffee, it came out tasting like some vile, chemical tasting peach overlay flavour. Again, a warm brown beverage - but definitely not coffee! Buy whole bean coffee and make sure you determine the following info:

  • What is the area of origin
  • What period of time in the year is the coffee harvested
  • When was the coffee roasted

There are other pieces of valuable information a good roaster will tend to provide. Look for evaluations of flavour (like chocolatey, fruity, etc.), as well as the degree of roast. What grower (or cooperative) produced the coffee? Was it hand picked? Sun-dried? Is it Fair Trade or certified organic? At what altitude was it grown? Experiment with roast levels. Many people believe they only like dark roasts. What many don't realize is dark roasts tend to mask the real flavour of the bean. Unfortunately, the large scale coffee companies (whose products you find in your local grocery store) tend to produce darker roasts because it's easy to consistently produce and a darker roast reduces the mass of the coffee - thus reducing shipping expenses. Try lighter roasts. They are far superior and you will be very surprised at the complex flavours you will experience. Invest in a decent brewing system. Whatever you decide to use, keep it clean. While we use a very good drip system most of the time, we also really like the French Press system. Look for upcoming blog articles in which we will discuss a variety of brewing systems and the best methods to follow. We don't mean to castigate every grocery store brand. There are a few truly respectable roasters who are producing quite decent beans and distributing them through grocery chains. But remember, truly great coffee is readily available and will be a much more satisfying indulgence. Single-origin, micro-lot, freshly roasted is our mantra! And you don't get that in a grocery store!

We love coffee so much, we decided to begin producing our own roasts. Our whole bean coffees are all from Africa (where a large percentage of truly great coffees come from) and are named after endangered or vulnerable species (in keeping with our support of charities who benefit species at risk). Africa is often called "the birthplace of coffee". In our opinion, Africa is a source of excellent quality and extremely flavourful coffee beans. To ensure the best possible coffee experience, we roast in frequent small batches, taking care to preserve and enhance the natural flavours of the bean. Please try our small lot freshly roasted coffee. We think you will truly enjoy these lovely roasts...

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Talkin' About A Revolution? Power To The Coffee Cup!

What an incredible idea! Every once in a while, someone crops up and sends us something that makes us go, "Yeah, right on!". (You can tell what generation we're from!)

Moyee FairchainTM Coffee - Revolution In A Cup - clearly defines the issues and their aspiration to provide a way out of development aid. The global coffee chain became dominated by only five large multinationals.

The Result?

  1. Consumer prices went up
  2. Coffee quality went down (due to mixing beans from different origins to achieve a globally uniform taste and the use of mediocre quality beans)
  3. Coffee quality and "unique taste" suffered

Moyee's intent is admirable. We wish them great success! Our coffee mantra is single origin, freshly roasted in small lots. Why? Because that's what produces excellent quality and unique taste.

Please take a look at our whole bean coffee. Named after endangered or vulnerable species (we believe awareness is a powerful tool), our coffees are carefully selected, handcrafted, single origin micro-lots, freshly roasted in small batches to provide the best possible coffee experience to our loyal customers. We're also committed to fair trade (and organic whenever possible).

Single-origin, micro-lot, freshly roasted is our mantra! And you don't get that in a grocery store!

Africa is often called "the birthplace of coffee". In our opinion, Africa is a source of excellent quality and extremely flavorful coffee beans. To ensure the best possible coffee experience, we roast in frequent small batches, taking care to preserve and enhance the natural flavours of the bean. Please try our Single Origin Whole Bean Coffee

We think you will truly enjoy these lovely roasts. We are currently offering  - a sweet and juicy coffee with stone fruits and apricot qualities. Ethiopian Wolf is handcrafted, naturally sun-dried and is both Fair Trade and Organically certified.

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This exceptional blend is predominantly a delightfully twisted mix of Ethiopian whole bean with a little bit of South American pizzazz. The result is a smoothly decadent, creamy and balanced flavour we know you'll enjoy! Try our recipe Bran Rusks, with our delicious coffees. A truly terrific combination!  

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