Omo Valley Hairdos

The first lady I saw with THE hairdo that was so beautiful. Her skin was so soft and supple and her hair was red. But it was not her natural hair color because the red hair was caused by red ochre which is the haute couture of hair styles among the Omo Valley Ethiopia tribes of Hamer, Karo, Bome, and Gurage that I saw. And Daniel Tesfaye of Kibran Tours of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia took us there and did an A+ job for us.

The red ochre comes from red rocks that are sanded to yield a fine powder. I saw ladies selling it in the Hamer Market in Turmi, Ethiopia and touched the red powder.  Instantly, my fingers were red causing me to wonder if this is used in ladies cosmetics all over the world. Mixed with water, the red mineral dye is placed on the hair after it is styled.

Several styles exist among the ladies, from short and twisted into balls all over the top of the head, to hair braided from the crown of the head into very tiny braids that hang down and cover the head like a cap. Then, there is the variation where the tiny braids hang down from the crown and hang to the shoulder and over the forehead to eye level.

These hair styles are then coated with the wet mud-like red ochre and then allowed to dry. The ladies are so beautiful when the henna is wet and they are beautiful when it is dry. After it is applied, the dripping starts and it runs all over their neck, chest and face. But most of them leave it where it drips whether on the chest, neck or those many beautiful necklaces. The drippings, however, are wiped from the face, leaving an inch of henna on the skin at the hairline.

The ochre can be applied over and over, layer upon layer. And when it dries, it becomes a dull red and can flake off, depending on how many layers have been applied. In the end, the henna washes out when the ladies wash their hair in the river.

The men’s hair style is even more unusual. A 6 inch-mud-like compound is placed at crown of the head on top of the short hair like a little cap. To get color, red ochre is put on top of this. Then all is allowed to dry and when it does, it cracks and starts to fall off. Ostrich features are then added with the eye-catching black balls on top of the head made of tiny black ostrich feathers.

But what I didn’t find out was how they scratch their head with all these wet or dried coverings on it.

Photo Copy ©  2015 


Omo Valley Karo Birthday Party

Forty-eight Karo people arrived at my birthday party by suddenly appearing from the bush using  the light of the full moon to find their way. Before the party could begin, they had to finish dressing  at the bush lodge by painting their bodies with white paint. For 30 minutes, each one applied their world famous body designs right in front of me using white rock powder and water. And what designs they made while chanting songs about love, war and life.

But that wasn’t all that these Karo people from the Omo Valley of Ethiopia had for my birthday. Soon the dancing started as the men lined up opposite each other and competed with the highest jump possible, all while chanting a rhythmic beat. First one and then another would jump between the two lines and continued jumping as high as he could until he made it to the other side.

Then it was the ladies time to perform their dances. What a treat to see the ladies do the monkey dance, the wild dog, and 5 other dances. In 3 separate lines, the ladies squatted, hopped and sounded like a monkey. Then they barked and chanted like wild dogs while scooting around in a circle. One after the other, the ladies continued their outstanding performance.

As I sat in the seat of honor next to the old chief of this Karo tribe, I noticed the young children were joining in the dancing behind their parents and  keeping up with the beat until it was their time to perform one day. And while all the dancing occurred, the older children tended the infants that couldn’t yet dance.

They even brought flowers and a birthday cake for me. The “flowers” were rose petals in a Coke bottle and the “cake” was sand and a candle in a jar.

An hour later, the 48 Karo people disappeared into the bush just as fast as they first appeared walking by the light of the full moon. I asked my guide Daniel Tesfaye of  Kibran Tours of Ethiopia, what he paid them for this outstanding party and he replied, $100 US Dollars. To me, it was priceless.