Friday, January 4, 2013

DASSANECH PEOPLE: ETHIOPIA`S INDIGENOUS CROCODILE HUNTING ETHNIC GROUP



The Dassanech people (also spelt as Daasanach, Dasenach, and Dassanetch, and called Geleb,Merile, and Gabarich), who speak an East Cushitic language, live in Ethiopia and Kenya on the northern shore of Lake Turkana and further north along the Omo River. The name Dassanech means ‘People of the Delta’. The Ethiopian Dassanech (the majority) live in Dassanech Woreda (District), South Omo Zone, Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR). The population of the Ethiopian Dassanech is estimated at 48,067 (CSA 2007: 84).
 
                        Dassanech  People, Omo valley Ethiopia

According to unpublished data from the South Omo Zone Administration, the land area of the Dassanech is 2,575 sq km. Until 2006, the area was part of the administrative unit of Kuraz woreda. Following the 2006 administrative restructuring,Dassanech land was elevated to a district level with its capital at Omorate, some 852 km south of Addis Ababa. The Dassanech district is divided into 40 units called kebele. A kebele is the lowest administrative unit responsible for government functions such as local administration, the collection of tax, provision of extension service and food aid, elections, etc. Except for Omorate (the capital of the district), which hosts migrants and local people, all other kebeles are inhabited by agro-pastoral Dassanech communities.

                    Omorate - Dassanech men with the typical ornaments

Traditionally, the Dassanech are divided into eight territorial sections (emeto). These include the Shirr, Inkoria, Narich, Elele, Riele, Oro, Randal, and Kuoro. Despite the recent re-organization of the Dassanech society into ‘modern’ administrative units by the government, the emeto structure remains strong and functional throughout the Dassanech territory. 
                                      Dassanech man with his tribal scarification

Territorial sections, which are seen as identity markers of the residents, are autonomous in terms of managing internal affairs such as resource use, transfer of generational power, religious/ritual functions, offensive/defensive actions, raiding, and conflict resolution. Furthermore, the Dassanechare divided into eight exogamous and non-territorial clans (turo), namely, Turinyerim, Fargar,Galbur, Turat, Ili, Mur, Edze, and Tiyeme. The clans reside in all territorial sections, although each section may not have all eight clans.

                                   Dassanech girls. Omo valley. South Ethiopia


Today, the Dassanech people are predominantly agro-pastoralists, who complement their income from livestock production with cultivation of crops on the flooded banks of the Omo River and fishing. The Dassanech claim to have lost much of their lands to Kenya in the south and in the west during the last century. The loss of land translated to massive decreases in the numbers of their livestock, which forced many people to adopt alternative livelihood strategies: cultivation and fishing.

                                         Dassanech village

It was this historical process that turned the primarily pastoral people into primarily agro-pastoral communities. Cattle and goats represent the most commonly raised and highly valued livestock.
In the early morning,a Dassanech girl milks a cow outside a settlement of the Dassanech people in the Omo Delta of Southwest Ethiopia. Her decorated leather skirt and adornment are typical of the young women of her tribe.The Dassanech speak a language of Eastern Cushitic origin. They practice animal husbandry and fishing as well as agriculture. Stock Photo - Rights-Managed, Artist: AWL Images, Code: 862-03354105
 In the early morning,a Dassanech girl milks a cow outside a settlement of the Dassanech people in the Omo Delta of Southwest Ethiopia. Her decorated leather skirt and adornment are typical of the young women of her tribe

Besides, the Dassanech also raise sheep, donkeys, and in some parts camels. Sorghum is the staple food crop grown in the area. In addition to sorghum, the Dassanech grow some maize and beans.
                              Dassanech woman grinding sorghum

The degree of dependence of the Dassanech on these different economic activities vary from one territorial section to another. The Shiir (the largest group), the Narich, the Oro, and the Kuoro combine livestock and crop production. The Inkoria and the Randal rely heavily on livestock production, while the Elele and Riele count more on cultivation and fishing and less on animal husbandry. The variations in the degree of dependence on different economic activities may be explained in terms of proximity to the Omo River, loss of animals that necessitated reliance on other activities, and the suitability of locations for the types of production. 

                       Dassanech settlement in omo valley,Ethiopia

The Lakeshore is reported to be more suitable for cattle than for goats. The riverbank is best suited for flood retreat cultivation.While those who raise large numbers of goats (e.g., the Inkoria) tend to sell their goats to buy food, those who raise cattle have to grow their own food because selling cattle to buy food is less common in Dassanech. Cattle is slaughtered when getting old or when the family needs it.

                                                           Dassanech Shepherd



When Dassanech people lose their cattle to disease, drought or a raid by a neighbouring tribe, they are unable to sustain their usual way of life. Instead, they become the Dies, or ‘poor people’ and turn for their livelihood to Lake Turkana, where they fish and hunt crocodile and even occasionally hippopotamus.

Living with the Dassanech - meeting the crocodile hunters




















For those who have lost their cattle, there is another option. That is to cross tribal boundaries, which have always been fairly permeable, and join with another group where an individual might have a family connection.


Those Dassanech who have lost their herds and turned to fishing also risk their lives hunting for crocodile at night in the shallow waters of the Omo River delta. Even a small crocodile can provide a good meal for a family. In fact, the fishermen are in some ways luckier than their herding cousins, whose livestock is often at risk from the enduring drought now affecting the Lake Turkana region. They can still obtain good sources of protein from fish during even the harshest droughts.

The men hunt at night from small dugout canoes. They hunt in silence, making occasional hand gestures to instruct the oarsman to change direction. Using a torch – their only concession to modernity – to pick out the crocodiles’ eyes in the darkness, they slowly manoeuvre their canoes close to the crocodile before letting fly with a harpoon attached to a rope. Once the barb penetrates the tough skin, the crocodile has little chance. It is hauled alongside and repeatedly speared until it is safe to haul it inside the canoe. As Bruce found out, sometimes the crocodiles can be very large indeed and it requires great bravery and skill to ensure no one is hurt.

The tribes here have always traded between each other, for beads, food, cattle, cloths and so on. More recently, the trade has been in guns and bullets. Inevitably, as roads are made through the area, other goods like beer and food find their way into the villages.


The Dassanech are surrounded by four ethnic groups (namely, the Turkana, the Gabra, the Nyangatom, and the Hamar), who are considered as enemies (kiz) because of a long history of conflict. The Turkana and the Gabra are located in Kenya, while the Nyangatom and the Hamar are Ethiopians.
                                       Dassanech kids dance - Omorate Ethiopia

 As indicated earlier, the conflict between the Dassanech and their neighbors may be explained largely in terms of pasture and water scarcity and certain cultural factors. The alleged involvement of external agencies (e.g., commercial raiders and elements of the Kenyan security force) seems to be changing the dynamics of cross-border conflict.
                                       Dassanech man and his wife

Although, it is a male dominated society, having a girl also gives a social status among peers and therefore; is celebrated with special occasion after a girl is born.

                                           Dassanech boy carrying beautiful cowries decorated water gourd


 They are governed by an Age –Set System, one of the oldest political institutions in Africa, which divides people into age categories for the purpose of political, economic and social structure. Dassanech men are recognized for their beautiful hair style in the region which also signifies position in Age-Grade system.
                                                        Thuya,chief of Lomosia


The Dassanech tribe is not strictly defined by ethnicity. Anyone – man or woman - will be admitted, as long as they agree to be circumcised. Over the centuries, the tribe has absorbed a wide range of different peoples. It’s now divided into eight main clans, which to some extent reflect the wide-ranging origin of its members. Each clan has its own identity and customs, its own responsibilities towards the rest of the tribe, and is linked to a particular territory.
                                                     Dassanech woman holding a spear

The largest clan is the Galbur, or Water and Crocodile clan. The Dassanech believe its members have the power over both water and crocodiles and are responsible for dealing with diseases of the glands across the tribe. The Turat clan is responsible for dealing with burns from the fire. They have powers to keep away snakes and to cure many diseases, and also have the ability to keep away enemies from their animals. Another important clan is Turnyerim, which has powers over drought. They pray for rains during dry periods and they can also cure snakebites by spitting on the wound.

Other clans claim to have healing powers over eye infections, scorpion bites, muscular problems, and so on. Members of the same clan are forbidden from marrying – or indeed dancing - with each other.

Dassanech girls are circumcised young, at around 10 or 12 years of age. If they are not circumcised, a girl can’t marry and her father won’t receive her bride-price, so he has a direct interest in her going through the ordeal. Until they are circumcised, girls are called ‘wild animals’ or ‘men’ to tease them – the idea is that their clitoris has to be removed before they act like women.

                                               Young Dassanech woman - Ethiopia


Girls may be circumcised in their mother’s house, or in another village, but always with other girls of their age going through the same ritual. The cutting itself is usually done by an older woman who will be helped by the girl’s relatives. She’s held down, and a leather strap is tied around her ankles or in between her legs. It is kept tied to restrict the girl’s movement, until the wounds have healed and the pain has subsided.
                                Dassanech girl with caps wig - Omorate Ethiopia

When the ritual has been completed, the girl is given sour milk to drink and a necklace by her mother. From then on, she is allowed to wear a leather skirt to show she is now considered an adult. Marriage for girls often takes place soon after.
Dassanech people

The biggest ceremony in a man’s life is called Dimi. Its purpose is to celebrate and bless his daughter for fertility and future marriage. When he has gone through Dimi, a man becomes an elder. About 10 cattle and 30 smaller animals are slaughtered and other stock is traded for coffee. Men and women dress in animal fur capes to feast and dance, and the leaders of the village bless the girl.
                                       Dassanech woman and her child

Dimi ceremonies, with their need to slaughter cattle, take place in the dry season – when cattle aren’t producing much milk, and grazing has limited value. Slaughtering cattle at this time of year provides meat when other food sources are low.


Lake Turkana – the largest desert lake in the world – periodically expands and shrinks. At present, it is shrinking and becoming more alkaline. The reasons are mainly climatic – drought in the region means that less water is flowing into the lake. Also, higher temperatures mean more lake water is evaporating. The situation has not been helped by the damming of several large rivers that once fed it, and the increased used of water from the Omo River for irrigation.

                Dassanech people in Hollowed canoe crossing the Omo River


                                               DASSANECH FAMILY


As Lake Turkana shrinks, the Omo River delta, where most of the Dassanech live, is growing in size as the river flow declines. It is now nearly 250 kilometres across at its widest point and is rapidly becoming a wetland of major international importance. It’s also beginning to attract more human settlement, risking further deforestation and overgrazing.

               Dassanech men being ferried on a dug-out canoe across Lake Turkana


Meanwhile, the Ethiopian government and the African Parks Foundation threaten to take over and fence game parks in Southern Ethiopia. This could seriously restrict the access of local tribes, if not chase them out. The Dassanech fear that they will be denied grazing rights if a park is established in the delta area.

       Dassanech tribe, mother with her ​​son in her arms, near omorate, lower valley of the omo, ethiopia


Though the Dassanech have begun to get help from the Ethiopian Government and outside agencies such as the United Nations, life remains tough. For longer term help, the people need practical solutions to relieve their ongoing problems of healthcare, water scarcity and a precarious way of life.

                       dassanech people crossing lake turkana


                                              Dassanech man`s hairsyle
Sourcehttp://www.polsoz.fu-berlin.de/polwiss/forschung/international/frieden/publikationen1/Research_Report_No1_final.pdf
           http://www.bbc.co.uk/tribe/tribes/dassanech/#further4

Photos of Dassanech People,their dressings, way of living and hairstyles

Young Dassanech Girl With Beaded Headband and A Baby Goat On Shoulders, Omorate Ethiopia

The Dassaneth or Geleb are living on both sides of the Omo river.
The Dassanetch are originally nomadic pastoralists . However, despite their dedication to cattle rearing current reality reveals that crop cultivation on the flooded banks of the Omo river and its delta are fundamental to their subsistence.
Omoratte market of the Dassanetch has been serving for centuries as an important trading center of the Karo and the Geleb where the Karo head with their own clay pots to exchange them for grain, Coffee and ammunition.
In the Dassanetch society power is in the hands of a group of about thirty elders called"bulls" (Ara).
The hair style of the Dassanetch men is one of the most sophisticated in the Omo valley.© Eric Lafforgue 
www.ericlafforgue.com




A braided hairstyle of a Dassanech young man of the Omo River Delta.His ears are pierced in five places round the rim.


Dassanech People | ETHIOPIA



                              Beautiful Dassanech girl from Omorete

An unusual braided hairstyle of a Dassanech young man of the Omo River Delta.The Omo Delta of southwest Ethiopia is one of the least accessible and least developed parts of East Africa.As such, the culture, social organization, customs and values of the people have changed less than elsewhere. Stock Photo - Rights-Managed, Artist: AWL Images, Code: 862-03820444

An unusual braided hairstyle of a Dassanech young man of the Omo River Delta.




Beautiful Dassanech girl

A happy Dassanech girl stands close to her familys goats outside a large traditional settlement in the Omo Delta of Southwest Ethiopia. She has had removed her two lower incisors a common practice among many pastoral people.The gap was originally made to feed those who contracted lockjaw, it is now a cultural practice. Stock Photo - Rights-Managed, Artist: AWL Images, Code: 862-03820441

A happy Dassanech girl stands close to her familys goats outside a large traditional settlement in the Omo Delta of Southwest Ethiopia




                                                   Dassanech girl with an awesome hairstyle


                                             Dassanech mother and child!



Ethiopia, Omo Delta. A Dassanech girl braids her sister's hair at her village in the Omo Delta


Portrait of a Dassanech girl



Dassanech woman and her child

The braided hairstyle of a young Dassanech man

Dassanech tribe man with a hippo skin whip, Omorate, Omo valley, Ethiopia


Dassanech woman. Omo valley. South Ethiopia

Dassanech girls



Dassanech woman carrying pot

A proud father and his young daughter. Both their hairstyles are typical of tribal 




 An attractive Dassanech girl stands on the banks of the Omo River. Her leather skirt and adornment are typical of the girls of her tribe


Africa | Portrait of young girl from the Desanech tribe, N.E Lake Turkana, N.Kenya | © Paul and Paveena McKenzie
Portrait of young girl from the Desanech tribe, N.E Lake Turkana, N.Kenya | © Paul and Paveena McKenzie


Daasanach Tribe. Lower Omo River Valley. South West Ethiopia.
Dassanech adolescent girls. Women are usually circumcised and are married off when they are 17 years old. Women who are not circumcised are called animals or boys and are not allowed to marry or wear clothes. Boys are circumcised and the men marry when they are 20.
children over a barn in a village of the tribe of Dassanech, near omorate, lower valley of the omo, ethiopia
Also known as the Galeb or Geleb, this tribe lives just north of Kenya's Lake Turkana. Their neighboring tribe is the Turkana people. Cattle are used by the tribesman for meat, milk and clothing. Often Their cattle die from disease and drought. the Poorest Daasanech are the tribes in the Omo Valley.
men wear the typical hair if they have recently killed an enemy or a dangerous animal, bear head of ostrich feathers. But women wear necklaces with colorful beads.
Dasanech men and women are considered masters of body decoration, wearing earrings, necklaces, bracelets and anklets of beads.


                      Dassanech girl in traditional hut

Africa | 'Gourd-Carrier' Omorate ~ settlement in the desert area alongside the Omo River, South Ethiopia | © Sean Winslow
Gourd-Carrier' Omorate ~ settlement in the desert area alongside the Omo River, South Ethiopia | © Sean Winslow

               Dassanech boy

Africa | A Dassanech mother and child standing in front of the granary. | © Frans Devriese
 A Dassanech mother and child standing in front of the granary. | © Frans Devriese
Dassanech elder

Dassanach woman with monkey fur - Ethiopia
A young Dassanech girl carrying wooden milk containers. Milk containers are regularly sterilized with smoke from aromatic wood or dry herbs.The Dassanech people live in the Omo Delta of southwest Ethiopia, one of the largest inland deltas in the worl
Daodo's headpiece resembles that of a Daasanach hut- created from collected scraps and objects traded with other tribes and villages, then turned into a work of art.

The Daasanach

Daasanach Girl
The distinctive hair style of this Dassanech man above and the woman below, was achieved using a combination of clay, animal fat and ochre. The man`s style signifies that he has killed a man recently in intra-tribal conflict.




Like most of the residents in the Omo Valley, Balo does not directly count her age in years, but knows she was born during a harvest. When she reaches womanhood and is around 17 years old, she will be married to a man slightly older than her. Her dowry will be paid in cattle.
The Daasanach are a semi-nomadic tribe numbering approximately 50,000. Their clans stretch across Sudan, Kenya and Southern Ethiopia. Politically, the Daasanach do not feel they belong to either country and prefer to self- govern by their own customs and interpretation of land borders.
The Daasanach are a semi-nomadic tribe numbering approximately 50,000. Their clans stretch across Sudan, Kenya and Southern Ethiopia. Politically, the Daasanach do not feel they belong to either country and prefer to self- govern by their own customs and interpretation of land borders. 

3 comments: