They’re hidden in the deepest, darkest corners of the East Africa– In the vast, remote villages along Lake Turkana basin, Untamed, Independent tribe whose customs, dress and traditions have remained decidely anachronistic. The rare Dassanch are a people with a proud heritage and close community.
The Daasanach are a semi-nomadic tribe numbering approximately 50,000 whose clans stretch across Sudan, Kenya and Southern Ethiopia.
Politically, the Daasanach don’t feel they belong to either country and prefer to self-govern by their own customs and interpretation of land borders.
The Dassanech has been divided into different tribes namely Arbore, Ari, Bodi, Daasanech, Bena, Bumi, Hamer, Kara, Dorze, Muguji, Konso, Tsemay, Turkana, Mursi, and Surma.
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’. Traditionally, the dassanech are divided into 8 territorial sections: the Shirr (largest), Inkoria, Narich, Elele, Ri’ele, Oro, Randal & Kuoro and of which have their own identity and responsibility and customs and are divided into territories.
Among this clans the Inkabelo are the wealthiest. Furthermore, they are divided into 8 exogamous & non-territorial clans: Turinyerim, Fargar, Galbur, Turat, Ili, Mur, Edze & Tiyeme.
The Shiir , Narich Oro koro depend on livestock and crop production Inkoria, Randal rely on livestock production Elele and Riele depend on cultivation.
According to unpublished data from the South Omo Zone Administration, the land area of the Dassanech is 2,575 sq km.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 forgovernment 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.
The Dassanech tribe is not strictly defined by ethnicity. Anyone, man or woman, will be admitted, as long as they agree to be circumcised. Each of the 8 clans has its own identity & customs, its own responsibilities towards the rest of the tribe, & is linked to a particular territory.
The largest clan, the Galbur is known as the water & crocodile clan. They believe its members have the power over both water & crocodiles & are responsible for dealing with diseases of the glands.
The Turat are responsible for dealing with burns from fire. They also have powers to keep away snakes, to cure many diseases & the ability to keep away enemies from their animals.
The Turnyerim have powers over drought & they pray for rains during dry periods. They can also cure snakebites by spitting on the wound. Other clans have healing powers over eye infections, scorpion bites, muscular problems and so on. Members of the same clan are forbidden from marrying or even dancing with each other.
They are surrounded by four ethnic groups: The Turkana, the Gabra, the Nyangatom & the Hamar, who are considered as enemies.The Turkana & Gabra are located in Kenya, while the Nyangatom & Hamar are Ethiopians.
They are governed by an age-set system, one of the oldest political institutions in Africa, which divides people into age categories for the purpose of political, economic & social structure. Power is in the hands of a group of about 30 elders called ‘bulls’ (ara).
Although it is a male dominated society, having a girl also gives a social status among peers & is therefore celebrated.
Dassanech girls are circumcised young, at around age 10 or 12. If they aren’t circumcised she cannot marry & her father won’t receive her bride-price. Until they are circumcised, girls are called ‘wild animals’ or ‘men’ to tease them – the idea is that their clitoris has to be removed before they act like women.
Once they go through the ritual of circumcision they are given sour milk to drink & a necklace by her mother. From then on, she is allowed to wear a leather skirt to show that she is now considered an adult. marriage follows soon after.
The biggest ceremony in a man’s life is called Dimi or Dime. a Dassanech man blesses his daughter’s fertility & future marriage. Once he has gone through Dimi, a man becomes an elder. About 10 cattle & 30 smaller animals are slaughtered & other stock is traded for coffee.Both men & women dress in fur capes to feast & dance & the leaders of the village bless the girl.
After the ceremony, the participants are upgraded to ‘great men’ and may now engage in politic of the tribe.
Their dress leans towards the extravagant, described as ‘tribal avant garde’ to say the least. The women wear long cow skin dresses and multicolored beaded necklaces.
An interesting fashion trend amongst the Dassanach is their headgear. Nothing can compare to their original and unusual hats both men and women sport.
The Daasanach people use the strangest materials to make wigs and caps – some made with buckets of dried small flowers and branches, and the others consisting of bowls decorated with shells and white feathers and bottlecaps collected from discarded coke and beer bottles.