We arrived at the Konso village of Gamole, with its population 3000, and picked up a guide who gave an excellent introduction into village life.
The houses are built with thatch roofs in two levels which distinguishes them from other tribes. The thatch is brought together at the top in a decorative earthen ware pot with some of them being further decorated with beads. Well made roofs can last 100 years. They also have similar structures for storage and animals and we even saw a couple of small ones in a tree for chickens.
The 700 year old village had a 15 foot circular stone wall around it (no concrete was used) and as the village expands, new walls are built on the outer ring. All the alleys were very narrow to make it easier to catch invaders or thieves.
There are 9 Konso clans who get on amicably even though they’re often different religions (even within clans). They’re not allowed to marry within the clan as it would be regarded as marrying your brother or sister. The dowry is not cattle or money, but cotton blankets, honey and butter for the female’s hair.
They use a similar mummification process to the Egyptians for clan elders and heroes (definition – anyone who has killed a big wild animal). The body is mummified in an upright position using butter, honey and palm leaves and is left in a building for 9 years, 9 months, 9 days and 9 hours before being buried. It is only then that the person is regarded as being dead. If there is a famine, a shortened process starts at 9 months. Unlike the Egyptians, the brain is left in but the intestines and eyes are removed and placed in a jar near the body. We later saw the wooden totems erected to mark the location of the burial.
We walked amongst a maze of narrow lanes with either stone walls or intricate wooden fences and were followed by a gaggle of children all wanting their photo taken or a pen. Unlike the other tribes, they’re not particularly photogenic in their dress with most of them wearing ragged, western style clothing (apparently the Chinese had for some reason donated a pile of dark blue football shirts to them).
We came across one of the 14 community houses: huge beautiful thatched structures where the young boys from the area sleep along with boozed up married men to avoid them disturbing the family on return from a drinking session. Also when a woman has had a baby, the husband often lives in the community house for 3 months as a form of contraception. The role of the boys is to protect the area and to carry people to hospital if needed.
We then moved on to a high flat area used for dancing and village meetings. Here we saw the round ‘maturity stone’ a circular stone weighing around 50kg which boys have to lift above their head, weight-lifter style, and throw behind them to prove they’re strong enough to marry. Roy tried and couldn’t get it off the ground, so our guide demonstrated how it was done – to be fair he was 30 years younger!
There was also a truth stone which people swear on (in a similar way to the bible) when the clan elders resolve disputes – if they lie having sworn on the stone, they believe they will be punished by the gods.
A variety of crops was being grown including sorghum, maize, cotton, coffee (they sell the beans and make tea from the leaves), Maringa leaves and a variety of fruit and vegetables.
Once again, this was a fascinating insight into a unique way of life.