The Lower Omo Valley in Ethiopia is one of the most unique regions not only in Africa but in the world. This lush, picture-perfect region is home to so many different peoples so if you’re looking to run in with a famous Ethiopia Tribe, this is the place to be. Today we’ll take a closer at the Ari tribe of Ethiopia. These fascinating people are known for their prowess in agriculture and pottery-making. One of their most distinguishing factors is their natural blue eyes, although this phenomenon doesn’t necessarily occur in all the Ari people.
The remoteness of the Lower Omo Valley also means that for the most part, they have been able to retain their cultural integrity, although continued interest shown by the modern world will no doubt erode this eventually. New roads are being constructed with plans for large dam and irrigation projects being planned by the Ethiopian government, which has to potential to permanently change the lifestyle of the many indigenous peoples that call it home.
Where are the Ari people of Ethiopia located?
The Ari people inhabit the area just outside the town of Jinka and are believed to be the oldest and largest Omo Valley Tribe. It is said that they are the original tribe from which other tribes, including the Mursi, Karo, Hamer originated. Their influence extends from the Mago park across the Jinka highlands and even further north.
An Omo Valley Tribe with a Fascinating Culture
The Ari people of Ethiopia are said to be one of the most culturally and economically dominant groups in the Omo valley. They currently live in a clan structure, but actually used to live independently until the late 19th century when they were conquered and unified as part of the Ethiopian empire. Their territories are divided into nine independent units, each with its own leader and a traditional spiritual leader known as Babi.
Like most other Omo Valley Tribes, Ari men are allowed to marry as many women as they want as long as they can provide for their families. However, this practice is becoming relegated as the Ari people embrace Christianity and polygamy becomes less common. Today, most Ari men have only one wife.
The people are friendly and will often invite you into the villages where you can witness some of their traditional lifestyle activities. Some Ari villages are quite large and contain several streets. Their buildings range from the typical bamboo and straw huts to more substantial structures made from mud and wattle. Cooking and sleeping are all done inside.
Many of these buildings feature decorative paintings of animals, people, and cultural symbols in natural colors made from ground charcoal, cow dung, red soil, and water. These paintings are done by the women and is known in the local language as bartsi which translates to “giving beauty.” It’s been jokingly remarked that the Ari men just tend to their farms all day which is why they don’t know how to paint.
In cities and large towns, the Ari people wear regular modern clothes, but in remote villages, you can find Ari women wearing their traditional skirts made from koisha leaves adorned with large colorful bracelets and beads in line with their simple lifestyles. Ari men and women also wear a lot of jewelry and have many ear piercings for decoration. They also paint and scar their bodies which they proudly show off during key ceremonies.
The young boys and girls use innovative ways to adorn themselves using floral decorations and various designs made from berries, corn, cow horns, and warthog tusks to embellish their appearance. Their blue piercing eyes and bright sincere smiles are often a wonder to behold.
A Tribe of Farmers, Potters, and Blacksmiths
The economic system of the Ari people of Ethiopia is based on farming which is bolstered by their rather larger territories. Crops consist of grains, wheat, coffee, mangoes, bananas, and various root vegetables. They also tend to have large herds of livestock.
For the Ari people, the use of clay has pretty much become an art form so you’ll usually see rich displays of Ari pottery at the local market. They are also skilled in metal works so it’s common to find a few blacksmiths here and there, as well as several of their products at the markets too. One of their most popular products is their locally produced 40% grain alcohol which is made from corn.
The sale of all these products in large quantities allows the Ari tribe to considered one of the most well off Omo valley tribes.
All in all, the Ari people live a simple life and yet they thrive in their simplicity. If you’re planning a visit to Ethiopia, you should definitely consider paying them a visit. Just remember to keep an open appreciative mind and their lifestyle may be a sharp contrast from yours.
Want to learn more about the Ari people? Check out these tours for you!