Before They - Photography Project by Jimmy Nelson

Dassanech

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Dassanech
The Omo Valley, situated in Africa’s Great Rift Valley, is home to an estimated 200,000 indigenous peoples who have lived there for millennia. The 20,000-strong Dassanech (meaning ‘People from the Delta”) inhabit the southernmost region of the valley, where the Omo River Delta enters Lake Turkana.
“A close friend can become a close enemy” 
Cattle are central to the lives of the Dassanech. When they lose their cattle due to disease, drought or raid by a neighbouring indigenous groups, they turn to the world’s largest desert lake for sustenance. The indigenous culture is typical in that it is not strictly defined by ethnicity. Anyone can be admitted.
Artprint available

- Jimmy Nelson

Omorate Village, Southern Omo

July 2011

Life in the Omo Valley has changed very little since the turn of the first millennium. The indigenous peoples live a simple life of hunting, gathering, raising
cattle and growing sorghum along the banks of the River Omo. Within the village, the women build and take down the huts during migrations. They are semi-circular constructions with no interior divisions, made up of sticks, thatch, river reed and branches called miede. Women claim the right-hand side of the hut (and of the porch outside) as their own.

Artprint available

- Jimmy Nelson

People of the Delta

July 2011

As for most other tribes of the Omo Valley, cattle are central to the lives of the Dassanech. When they lose their cattle to disease, drought or raid by neighbouring indigenous groups, they turn to the world’s largest desert lake for sustenance, hunting fish, crocodile and the occasional hippo. 
Artprint available

- Jimmy Nelson

Dassanech men

July 2011

The Dassanech indigenous culture is typical in that it is not strictly defined by ethnicity. Anyone – man or woman – will be admitted, as long as they agree to be circumcised. Over the centuries, the tribe has absorbed a wide range of different peoples. Members of the same clan are forbidden from marrying – or indeed dancing with – each other.

Artprint available

- Jimmy Nelson

Spirited trees

July 2011

Most of the Dassanech are Muslim by name, although they have also been influenced by evangelist missionaries. Traditional Animism is also still
practised. The indigenous cultures now share a mixture of monotheistic and traditional animist beliefs, resulting in what is actually polytheism. In accordance with animist traditions, people believe that all natural objects, such as rocks and trees, have spirits.

Muslim legend has also added the Jinni, a spirit that can assume human or animal form and influence people by means of supernatural powers.

Dassanech girls

July 2011

Girls are circumcised at around the age of 10 or 12 years. Until then, as a tease, girls are called ‘wild animals’ or ‘boys’, since they cannot act like
women (i.e. wear clothes, get married etc.) before they are circumcised. Several girls always undergo the ritual together. When completed, the girls are given sour milk to drink and a necklace by their mothers.


Art print available

- Jimmy Nelson

Lake Turkana

July 2011

The Dassanech believe that some men have the power over both water and crocodiles and are responsible for dealing with diseases of the glands across the tribe. 

If necessary, the Dassanech fish and hunt crocodiles in Lake Turkana.