The Bodi, also known as Me’en, are a semi-nomadic tribe residing in the Omo Valley, about 140km from Jinka town in Southern Ethiopia. They stand to be one of the ethnic groups in Ethiopia that are steadfast in their indigenous tribal pastoral life and refuse to assimilate into contemporary conventions. An example of this is how they still speak the ancient Me’en language, a member of the Surmic branch of the Nilo-Saharan language family. At the beginning of each agricultural year, which the Bodi refer to as ‘Bergu’, the head of the household decides where they will be settling down next. Much like the simplicity of their clothing, their huts are constructed using wood walls and and grass roofs - testaments of their resourcefulness.
They also still engage in a barter system of trade, walking for hours to reach their weekly markets where they trade commodities laced with experience. The Bodi women indulge in fashion, marking their bodies using traditional tribal beautification practices. Such intricate scarification varies according to the bearer, illustrating unique stories and values in their own painful language. In less invasive ways, they also adorn their bodies with vibrant tribal bracelets aplenty, drawing the attention of one’s eye immediately.
Similar to other tribes in the Omo region, the Bodi place great value on their livestock, making it a significant role in marriage, divination, and name-giving rituals. A testament to this value is the complex classification they give their cattle, using over eight words to denote different colours and patterns. In terms of marital arrangements, I soon learned that marriage in the Bodi community is very transactional - an exchange from one lineage to another. However, the boy and girl involved surprisingly get afforded a relative amount of freedom in the selection, only needing to consult both parents once they have agreed on their choice. If by some chance, the parents do not approve, the young couple may choose to elope, only returning once their stance has been made clear to the community.
The Bodi tribe is steeped in culture, with so many facets of life that I barely scraped the surface of in my short visit. Despite carrying a great deal of tradition from their Me’en ancestors, they have carved their own mark in their culture, generating practices unique only to them.
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