Tribes of the Omo Valley

I first learned about the Omo Valley through Omo Child, a non-profit started here in San Diego, through my friend Janet Hanpeter who helped the founder, John Rowe, in expanding his fund raising and awareness efforts. Omo Child’s mission “is to provide a safe, nurturing home and quality education for rescued Mingi children. Mingi is the ritualistic killing of infants and children believed to be cursed by tribes living in the remote Omo Valley region of Southwest Ethiopia.” Shortly thereafter I got to meet Lale Labuko, co-founder and the heart and soul of Omo Child. Lale was born into the Kara tribe in Ethiopia’s Omo Valley and was one of the first of his tribe to receive a formal education. He learned that he lost two sisters to the Mingi practice and became an activist to help end the practice. Lale was named National Geographic Emerging Explorer in 2013. To read more about Omo Child and Lale please visit and NBC’s coverage of Lale at

In 2015 John Rowe released “Omo Child: The River and the Bush”, shot in Ethiopia with the tribes and at Omo Child’s children’s home in Jinka, which won acclaim in film festivals all over the world including awards for best documentary, audience choice awards and other recognition.  Check it out at:

In November 2015 I joined Epic Photo Tours with Herb Leventon, Jeremy Woodhouse and Holly Wilmeth to visit the Omo Valley. Along the river we visited the home of three tribes: the Hammer, the Kara and the Mursi. Each is distinctive in some fashion.

The Hammer people wear colorful bracelets and beads their hair and around their waists and arms. They practice body modification by cutting themselves and packing the wound with ash and charcoal. Some of the women wear circular wedge necklaces indicating that they are married. Men paint themselves with white chalk to prepare for a ceremony. The Mursi are probably one of the last groups in Africa among whom it is still the norm for women to wear large pottery or wooden discs, or ‘plates,’ in their lower lips. The Kara tribe decorate their faces and bodies with multi-colored chalk and paint patterns.

The Lower Omo River is home to eight different tribes, population about 200,000, who have been fully self-sufficient living along the  Omo River in Southern Ethiopia for centuries. They have developed a complex system of agriculture depending on the annual floods of the river to ensure their food security. The annual flooding feeds the biodiversity of the region as rainfall is low and erratic. Their traditional way of life is now seriously threatened by the construction of a giant dam and an associated hydro-power plant (Gibe III) on the upper Omo river which is forcing them off their land.

In 2011 the government began to lease out vast blocks of fertile land in the Lower Omo region to Malaysian, Italian, Indian and Korean companies to plant biofuels and cash crops such as oil palm, jatropha, cotton and maize. The people have not given their free, prior and informed consent for the dam or the plantations now being built. The government has begun to forcibly evict the Mursi and two other tribes. When the dam is complete, the environmental changes will cause the Omo tribes to lose their livelihood and become dependent on international aid, with the loss of their cultural identity inevitable.

If you would like more information about the tribes of the Omo Valley in Ethiopia, please check out   where you will find several ways to become engaged. 




This entry was posted in Ethiopia, Omo Valley, Photography, Travel.


  1. Michele Zousmer January 25, 2017 at 2:53 pm #

    Love the Omo. So happy you have the same love and as I do. Blog and photos are really great!!!

  2. Peter OSullivan January 25, 2017 at 3:10 pm #

    Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful.

  3. Mark Fackler January 25, 2017 at 3:24 pm #

    Absolutely beautiful and so very interesting. You are a talent.

  4. Brett Pyle January 25, 2017 at 3:27 pm #

    Oh my gosh, Ivy Gordon! Your photography is stunning!!!

    What a gift you have. Thanks for sharing it with the world!


  5. Karen King January 25, 2017 at 3:31 pm #

    Lovely photographs, and thank you for the narrative!

  6. Rita Campbell January 25, 2017 at 4:04 pm #

    Gorgeous work, Ivy, thank you

  7. Will marre January 25, 2017 at 4:04 pm #

    I deeply admire how hard you have worked to develop your talent. Your photos are literally breathtaking. You have the rarest ability to capture the inner light and spirit of strangers who are strangers no more I feel like I have been to the valley and have seen what you have seen. That is the pinnacle of true art.
    Thank you. Will

    • ig_admin January 25, 2017 at 9:04 pm #

      Thank you Will. It doesn’t feel like work when passion is the fuel. I think I learned that from you 🙂

  8. John Frager January 25, 2017 at 4:10 pm #

    Beautiful photography and very interesting story. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Steve Van Seters January 25, 2017 at 4:28 pm #

    Great blog post Ivy. Another fascinating part of the world. These photos are outstanding. In addition to the technical excellence, there is also a lot of emotion. Well done! I also love your new web site.

  10. Sally Bucko January 25, 2017 at 4:35 pm #

    Ivy, well done! Your photos are works of art and your blog is fascinating. What a great beginning and I look forward to your future posts. Congratulations!

    • ig_admin January 26, 2017 at 12:48 am #

      Thank you Sally. Can’t wait to see your images from your trip there a couple of weeks ago!

  11. Charles Kaufman January 25, 2017 at 4:49 pm #

    A strong and sad story. Breathtaking photos, Ivy. The whole presentation is really, really impressive and moving. Congratulations!

  12. Dwight Frindt January 25, 2017 at 4:49 pm #

    Ivy, these photos brilliantly capture a rich culture and way of being. Thank you for making that available to us!

  13. laura gordon January 25, 2017 at 5:19 pm #

    Amazing….Amazing people, Amazing story, Amazing history, Amazing photographs, Amazing photographer. Just amazing. . .

  14. Sue Wagener January 25, 2017 at 6:44 pm #

    Spectacular photos, Ivy! Such an incredible isolated area of Ethiopia. We are returning to Africa next year, but will be in the South only. You are making me giddy with excitement already! Thank you!

  15. Steffanie Cobler January 25, 2017 at 6:56 pm #

    Thank you Ivy for sharing these stunning photos with us. The way you are able to capture the unique beauty of the people is simply amazing!

  16. john cotter January 25, 2017 at 7:16 pm #

    Great pictures Ivy – they’re certainly are very attractive people. You sure do get around……….

  17. Byron O'Neal January 25, 2017 at 8:37 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this story and your wonderful collection of images.

  18. Jack Knies January 25, 2017 at 8:46 pm #

    Beautiful works of art.

  19. Herb Leventon January 26, 2017 at 12:16 am #

    You fully experienced the experience of being in the Omo Valley and your blog and images are full of life and are captivating. Shine bright!

    • ig_admin January 26, 2017 at 12:45 am #

      Thanks Herb! Am very excited to go back with you and continue to meet and learn about these people and this amazing place 🙂

  20. Monica Royal January 26, 2017 at 8:57 pm #

    Ivy, your photography is powerful and moving!

  21. Abe Ordover January 27, 2017 at 12:55 am #

    This is very impressive work. Even though I have seen many of these images before, they are excellent in this format. Congratulations!

  22. Trevor Cole February 3, 2018 at 6:47 pm #

    Ivy. I have just come upon this. Wonderful images and storyline! Your photos strongly reflect the emotion of the moment, people and the Omo itself.

    • Ivy Gordon February 5, 2018 at 12:23 am #

      Thank you Trevor. Appreciate this comment very much coming from you!

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