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African Christmas with the Bana tribe

If you come to Africa in December, do not expect an African Christmas with christmas trees, santa, or any celabrations. But you can make it a very special christmas if you stay with an ancient African tribe.

On our trip to Ethiopia, we happened to be in the middle of the bush at Christmas eve. The people we meet here, made our Christmas celebration this year very special.

Read about our African Christmas below, or move to the Adventure Travel Ethiopia page to find out how you can have a special time with the African tribes as well.

Arriving at a tribal village

Arriving at a Bana village
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We leave Jinka to head for the road to Kenya. An old acquaintance of our driver hitches a ride with us, and he appears to be the chief of a small Bana village.

After a few hours on bad roads we arrive there, but we only see his yard with some huts. Not much of a village, we think. But as we are invited to camp here, in no time a lot of tribe people are staring at us.

While the chief and his family are dressed in “normal” clothes, all others wear animal skins and appear from the bush.

We get rid of our audience by offering them diner in return for a traditional dance at 4 PM at our truck.

After quietly setting up our camp we decide to search for the rest of the visit. But we walk through the bush and the landscape in vain. We see no other huts and it appears difficult to find our way back to the road.

The traditional dance

When we finally get back, the dancing has started already. Over a hundred beautifully decorated Bana people are gathered in a circle. They perform several dances, where the women are challenging the men, and vice versa.

And we are just taking more and more beautiful pictures. In the end, they invite us to join in the dance, but we are very clumsy compared to them.

The traditional dance of the Bana tribe
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More Adventure travel tales in Ethiopia:
Bahir Dar, Lake Tana
Lake Langano
Omo Valley
Ancient African Tribes
African Christmas
Other African Tales:
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Masai Tribe, Kenya
Ngorongoro Area

Dinner with the tribe

Dinner with the Bana tribe
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After the show, we have the challenge of feeding approximately 150 hungry people. We expected only 50 and so we have to be creative.

In the spirit of this African Christmas we reserve the goat we bought and butchered earlier today for our guests. We enjoy how they enjoy their meal.

The men eat the meat, while the women get the soup made from it. They squeeze the accompanying rice in their hands and throw it in their mouths. All with an eagerness seldom seen when we eat. In the meantime Silent Night is played on our stereo.

Most of the Bana people stay around after their meal. We talk to them with hands and feet, we take pictures (laughter as we show them on our digital camera) and just stare at each other.

It is great to be among these ancient African tribe people, sharing and laughing and enjoying each others company.

During our own meal, modest but nicely decorated with candles for Christmas, most of them head home. But a few girls stay with us around the camp fire, and dance on our western music. It is the end of a very special and memorable Christmas eve.

Our Christmas in Africa
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On Christmas day we leave our Bana friends and take the road to Turmi, the largest village in the Bana area.

We have to stop here for some formalities (permits to drive through this region) so we take a look around. Not much special here, so we end up in a pub, or actually a large hut where they serve drinks. We are welcomed and Bana people come in to try to sell us souvenirs.

After Turmi we make a stop to get water, to have lunch, and to take a bath in the river. The truck passes the river with speed, not to get stuck in the quicksand, and we continue along the river.

We have to get out once because part of the road is washed away and the truck has to continue over a small ridge. The rear wheels push a bit more of the road in the chasm but we can continue our way.

Meeting the Hamer tribe

Hamer woman
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A little later we drive from the mountains on to the plains.

Behind the mountain range on the horizon is Kenya, but we drive along the mountains and make an early camp on the plains.

Here we are visited by a few women from the Hamer tribe. This tribe is related to the Bana and they look almost the same. But they occasionally wear a metal plate on their heads and steel rings around their necks.

The ritual of staring at each other starts again. We take our pictures shifty and they laugh as we play with our dog Ajou.

Everything is new for these people. Because of the harsh environment we are probably the first white people for some of them. Others are familiar with tourists, and ask money to take pictures.

The next morning they even try to sell us a puppy dog. It is difficult not to teach them bad habits, since we like to take their pictures and buy their bracelets.

A visit from the Hamer tribe
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But there is no harm in a little trading, and they are happy with our garbage: plastic bottles, empty milk powder cans and such things. And in the mean time we are just staring at them.

The Hamer are the last ancient people we visit in Ethiopia. We will come across some more tribes, but these are more used to “modern life” and tourists.

These are gaining terrain, and it is questionable how long the ancient tribes can keep their traditional lifestyle.

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Do you want to visit these African tribes while it's still possible? Read how on our Adventure Travel Ethiopia page.

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