The Time for Knives in Ethiopia
The Dassanech live in southern Ethiopia. Dwelling in isolation along the Omo River, they have retained an ancestral way of life.
They are called the “People from the Delta” in relation to the neighboring Turkana Lake but their world is actually one of desert, dust and acacia trees. Add to this hostile environment the rampant presence of malaria. The Dassanech encompass eight clans. Each possesses magical powers, such as making fire, keeping snakes away or making it rain...
The entire lives of the Dassanech revolve around their cattle, their only wealth. It provides meat, milk – which is essential during times of drought – and skins used as clothing and sleeping mats. The number of cows indicates their owner’s social status. Despite their isolation, the Dassanech do not live in peace – their livestock remain under the threat of constant raids by the neighbouring tribes.
And that is not folklore meant to impress the rare tourists who venture into these areas. Bloody clashes take place regularly, often with the Turkana tribe. Civil war is raging in southern Sudan nearby and Kalashnikovs sell for only $50. One only needs to take a look at the number of men with scars on their torsos, a sign that they have killed an enemy, to understand the ferocity of the fighting. There are hundreds of deaths every year. Kill a man and you will be a hero among the Dassanech.
To become a man, one must go through the ceremony of the Dime. It takes place every year in June. It is the most important ritual in the lives of young Dassanech. This is the time for circumcision for boys and excision for girls. The time for knives, as the elders say.
Testimonies about this ceremony are rare and for a good reason: the elders are reluctant to let foreigners attend the Dime. Even the few educated local Dassanech guides who live in the village of Omorate always come up with a good excuse not to go there or pretend to ignore the right places or dates.