Rites of Passage

Dassenech Initiation


Rites of Passage

The Dassenech, known as “People of the Delta,” live on small islands in the mouth of Ethiopia’s Omo River as it flows into Lake Turkana, the largest inland lake in Africa. Along with other groups of pastoralists, they live in a corner of Africa that may have been the original home of Homo sapiens.

The male initiation we recorded took place in a large thatched enclosure, called Bil Yaret, where hundreds of youths gathered. Calabashes of a ritual drink made from the husks of coffee beans are passed around and mouthfuls of this are sprayed as a blessing across the heads of the initiates. Together the boys go through ritual training as they enter manhood.

The Dimi is a coming-of-age ceremony celebrating fathers and their daughters, who together pass to the next stage of life.  In the Dimi ceremony, only fathers blessed with daughters graduate into elderhood while their daughters are prepared for their future marriages. Because fathers who have no daughters are not allowed to take part in the Dimi, Dassenech men often remarry until they produce female offspring.

The Dimi ceremony involves six weeks of feasting with dozens of cattle slaughtered. Every afternoon the elders, known as Bulls, lead the festivities, processing by the hut of each participant . Painted in yellow ocher and dressed in ceremonial finery the men form a procession around the huts of the village, chanting and dancing. They are joined by the women who carry cooking paddles to represent the next stage of their daughters’ lives.