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Mursi Cattle Herders of the Omo Valley

Listed under Traditional Cultures in Ethiopia.

Photo of Mursi Cattle Herders of the Omo Valley
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The Mursi are cattle herders, instantly recognisable by the clay plates adorned by their women. Mursi people live in the River Omo Valley of southwestern Ethiopia and share the region with over ten other cultures, each with a distinct language and set of traditions. The Omo Valley area is known for being a cradle of modern civilisation; hominid remains found here are estimated to be over four million years old.

The clay lip plates worn by Mursi women are a sign of social status, based on the size of the plate. The plates are meant to be removed only when the wearer is eating, sleeping, or in the presence of just women. Other traditional practices include stick duelling, a right of passage for young Mursi men.

As semi-nomadic pastoralists on lands within the Omo and Mago National parks, Mursi existence continues; a mixture of cattle herding, bush and riverbank cultivation and, these days, ethno-tourism. Having been engaged in many conflicts with neighbours in the past, the Mursi are now concentrated in fighting the Ethiopian government and the African Parks Foundation over land rights. These forces are banning hunting and tree-felling (thus effectively prohibiting shifting cultivation), marking 'official' boundaries that cut right through Mursi land, and are encouraging relocation which could spell the end for Mursi traditions and independence. International prominence is drawing attention to the struggle for preservation of this unique culture- join treks and tours of the Omo Valley to visit Mursi settlements.

Written by  Amber Due.

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