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Is visiting the Omo Valley ethical?

Without tourism, the Omo would be even poorer. The region mostly lives on meager resources and over the years has been victim to cattle-rustling, violence, ethnic struggles, drought and is often one of the last areas to receive support or infrastructure from a national level.

Tourism is vital to help support the communities, providing a basic income, and so we encourage you to think about visiting the Omo if you want to experience a part of Africa like no other.  

That being said, certain interactions and the manner of certain tourists can leave some feeling a bit like they’ve visited a ‘human zoo’. Disrespectful travelers have been known to wander into villages and stick their lenses into peoples’ daily lives with a feeling of entitlement, gawking at a life that is very different.

There is, amongst some visitors an expectation that in every village you should be shown a ceremony, or dance so that the tourists can tick off an experience they’ve read about, or seen in a magazine. The most common example of this is the Hamer Bull Jumping Ceremony, arguably the most famous cultural ritual in the Omo Valley, and one that is fascinating to see first-hand, but that cannot be planned in advance.

However, in most places – as is often the case in many parts of the world – a ceremony or dance is a pleasure to give, and a useful part of the tourist trade. It is a transaction, but a good one. 

Life here is extremely different from that of most visitors, and as such you should be prepared to be shocked and even disturbed by what you see, whilst remembering that these things could be totally normal in this region and context. By way of example, large families live in small huts. Sanitation is poor. Disease, illness, and destitution are, unfortunately, common here. Many tribes think nothing of not covering their bodies – women and men. Piercings, body markings, and circumcision is a way of life. It’s worth remembering alongside this, that simple lives are often very happy, and free from the distractions many tourists suffer in their home countries.

The lens you see the world through may, in fact, be as odd to them as theirs is to you. One of the reasons why visiting this area is so fascinating and rewarding is that it will challenge your belief systems and understanding of the world.

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