Also referred to as ‘Xonsita’, the Konso tribe in Ethiopia are among the most culturally buoyant ethnic groups among the famous Omo Valley tribes. Located in the south-central parts of Ethiopia, the Konso tribe is a low land Cushitic speaking ethnic group. They are surrounded by other Ethiopia tribes such as the Omotic tribe, Sidama and Oromo communities. With about 350,000 in population size, the Konso tribe are confined to their homeland of considerably less than 1000 square kilometers.
A Curious and Fascinating Tribe
The Konso tribe do not possess prior knowledge regarding their history or where their ancestors originated. They assume the tiny hilly territory in the far southwestern part of Ethiopia has always been their home. Their African ancestors are believed to have arrived at their present location about 5,000 years ago bringing alongside their agricultural technique and their stone-aged culture that is still evident today.
The remarkable culture of the Konso tribe was developed in virtual isolation. They are very passionate people and have little affiliation with outside influences except trading with the Borena for salt or cowrie shells. Although they are known to be a peaceful tribe, they guard their territory jealously. This is evident in the fact that each village is surrounded by a stone wall. Their lands are mostly terraced and planted with trees while their fertile fields are also tended and well irrigated.
Location And Values Of the Konso Tribe
The Konso tribe is located in a dry, hilly environment at the edge of the rift valley, South of Ethiopia. This area of the country has been relatively isolated and for the last 400 years, and life has remained unchanged. The Konso people live in closely packed communities made from wood and mud thatched dwellings from which they travel out to their fields of corn and millet every day.
The palace of the local chief comprises a collection of dome-shaped thatched rooms with covered meeting and work areas, all surrounded by a heavy wooden ‘stockade’ with narrow gates. In the nearby forest, there are well-maintained collections of anthropomorphic statues, one group of them kept under a pagoda-style shelter.
Features Of Konso’s Cultural Landscape
The Konso cultural landscape has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2011. The area is named after the agriculturist who inhabited the area and molded the 230km2 homeland of semi-arid hills into productive agricultural land.
Some features of Konso include
- A striking feature of Konso is the ancient hilltop paleta (terraced and walled villages). The hilltop paleta villages signify a defensive structure from outside attacks.
- The Konso tribe is also known for its waka grave-markers, anthropomorphic hardwood statues which they carved to mimic the deceased family members, and for their communally constructed reservoirs.
- Every village in Konso is divided into several subcommittees. Each committee has its own Mora – a striking thatched roof, open-sided community house.
- In some Konso villages, the celebration of a particular age-set is commemorated by erecting a stone obelisk known as Daga-hela. This custom makes Konso one of the megalithic cultures of the world still existing.
- The sacred Kalla forest is the site of the New Konso Coffee Cooperative, which uses a traditional dry method to process the coffee beans.
- The countryside of Konso is made of hard, dry, rocky slopes. So, the Konso people developed a system of dry-stone terracing to prevent erosion and create saddles for agriculture.
- Gesergiyo is one of the villages in Konso best known for nearby gorge filled with skyscraper-like water-sculpted sand pinnacles nicknamed ‘New York’.
Getting To Konso
Karat-Konso is located about 540km south of Addis Ababa along the road through Arba Minch and Butajira. Most visitors prefer to drive down as part of an organized tour and also taking in the South Omo zone to the west. The closest airport is located 85km north of Konso at Arba Minch. Ethiopian Airlines operates on a daily basis from Addis Ababa to Arba Minch. Hotels located in Arba Minch can also arrange transfers or tours to Konso.
Getting Around Konso
Konso is most often explored on an organized 4×4 tour out of Addis Ababa or Arba Minch. Visitors must report at the Konso Tourist Information Centre to pay their entrance fee and make arrangements for a mandatory guide before visiting any of the villages. The Konso Tourist Information Centre can also make arrangements for a multi-day overnight hike exploring several villages as well as the Doha hot springs and rock formations at Gesergiyo.
There are several budget hotel options located in the center of Karat Konso. However, there is also one proper tourist’s lodge located on the outskirts of the town.
If you want to get souvenirs, there are few stalls in Konso selling traditional fabrics and local handicrafts. Also, there are craft sellers operating in most of the more popular traditional Konso villages.
The Konso Tribe in Ethiopia is as fascinating as they come and you can include a cultural visit to them in your itinerary. It promises to be an enlightening experience as you witness a whole new way of life that has been in existence for thousands of years.