INDIGENOUS SUPER-MODELS: Ethnic Dassanech women from Omo Valley in Ethiopia in their fashionable traditional outfit near the banks of Omo River. 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).
According to unpublished data from the South Omo Zone Administration, the land area of the Dassanech is 2,575 sq km.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
BY: Kweku Darko Ankrah