The Ari The most populous ethnic group in South Omo, the Ari also have the largest territory, centred on the main road to Jinka. They tend to be more westernized than most of their neighbours, though in rural areas Ari women still wear traditional dress made from banana leaves and hang beads and bracelets from their arms.
The Hamer The Hamer are traditional pastoralists who speak one of the Omotic languages unique to South Omo. The women have a striking appearance, wearing plaited ochred hair and leather skirts embroidered with cowries, and both sexes indulge in intensive body scarification. The most important event in the Hamer calendar is the bull-jumping ceremony, usually held over three days between February and April, during which young men jump between the backs of several bulls lined up in a row.
The Mursi South Omo’s most famous ethnic group is the Mursi, whose territory is centred on the Omo and Mago rivers. Mursi women are renowned for the saucer-sized clay lip-plates they insert into a distended slit between their mouth and lower lip. The size of the plate worn by a woman will determine how many cattle her husband must pay her family when they marry.
The Tsemai and Arbore These two affiliated groups both live in the eastern part of South Omo, having migrated there from Konso two centuries ago, and freely intermarry with their western neighbours, the Hamer. The Arbore in particular play an important role in facilitating local trade. The Tsemai are subsistence farmers who practise flood cultivation and keep cattle.
The Karo Linguistically affiliated to the Hamer, the small Karo group is renowned for its elaborate body painting, which involves spotting the body with white chalk paint and applying a rainbow of traditionally made pastes to the face. They live on the east bank of the Omo River.