Bodi people

Bodi / Me'en

Bodi / Me'en / Mekan / Me’enite / Mela / Meqan / Mie’en / Mieken / Surob

The Bodi or Me'en is the name of a semi-nomadic tribe living in the Omo valley, about 140 km from Jinka town, southern Ethiopia.

The Me'en are an ethnic group numberin 222.000 ( 2023) individuals located in the highlands and lowlands of southwestern Ethiopia.  According to ethnographic surveys conducted by linguists, they live in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Regional State, Bench-Maji zone.  About 1500 of them live across the border in Sudan.

The Bodi speak the Me'en - (mym) language, which is a member of the Surmic branch of the Nilo-Saharan language family.

The population is subdivided into two groups:

Bodi people map

The bodis are one of the ethnic group in Ethiopia`s Omo valley that have refused to change to the modern way of life and prefers their indigenous tribal pastoral life. The bodi still engages in barter trade system. Bodi people in south Ethiopia walk for hours to reach the weekly markets, where they exchange stuff or buy some.

Similar to the Mursi, livestock plays an important role I marriage, divination, and name-giving rituals. The Bodi classification of cattle is complex, with over eight words to denote different colors and patterns. Bodi dress is simple. The women wear goatskins tied at the waist and shoulder, while men fasten a strip of cotton or bark-cloth around their waist.

Bodi women likes fashion and they are fond of making tribal beautification marks on their bodies. These beautification marks (scarifications) comes in many forms as the bearer want it to be. They adorn their body with beautiful tribal bracelets.

Every year, they celebrate their new year, 'Ka`el’ (Bodi New year Celebration) between June and July, depending on the full moon, the rains. This celebration is a bit different than a usual new year celebration’s as the tradition is to feed young men from every Bodi village. They are fed with only honey, cow blood and milk during 3-6 months (fattening process).

To celebrate their new year Ka`el, the Bodi tribe in south Ethiopia, kill a cow. They use a huge stone and bang the head....then they open the cow, rip out  the intestines for divination, and take the blood to drink it.
The feeding on the blood mixed with honey and cow milk enables them to almost double their weight, which makes them ready for the competition. Contestants for this competition goes naked to make them eligible to participate.

On the competition day, the contestants and the village folks assembles at the Bode King village. Traditional bodi tribal warrior dances are performed to the delight of on-lookers. After the dance, the bodies of the contestants are measured by the elders who then decide who is the fattest winner.

The fattest person is then declared as the winner of the competition and is honored with a great fame in the bodi tribe.

When a member of Bodi tribe dies. The woman of the tribe shout to the spirits and chant of his/her death to bring the soul to peace. The Bodi men perform ceremonial death procession and will keep the body of the deceased safe for 3 days. After this, the tribe will gather together and eat as a sign of respect, and to ensure passing into the next world.


The Bodi Tribe Hairstyles

Bodi tribe are the most friendlier,shy and accommodating people. Amongst the tribes in Ethiopia`s Omo Valley, Bodi are very have very beautiful women whiles their men tend to be very fat with big feets.

The Bodi have a natural flair for fashion and they have one of the most diverse magnificent hairstyles (hair-cut) among the indigenous tribes in Omo Valley.



It is believed that the Me'en may have originated in southern Sudan and gradually moved into southwestern Ethiopia.  The Me'en, however, claim that they originated near the Omo River in southern Ethiopia, where they believe that their ancestors emerged from a hole in the ground.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Me'en were known by the highland Ethiopians as one of the populations from which large numbers of slaves were taken.  They had a reputation of fierceness in battle, demonstrated in the tough resistance they put up against Amhara feudal troops.



The Me'en are a Nilotic group closely related to neighboring peoples with similar language.  The whole cluster is referred to as Surma.

"The term Surma is the Ethiopian government's collective name for the Suri, Mursi and Me'en groups that inhabit the southwestern part of the country, with a total population of 186,875. All three groups speak languages belonging to the Surmic branch of the Nilo-Saharan language family" [Surma – Wikipedia]

The Me'en are also called Mekan, also sometimes called Tishena in older literature.  Other forms of their name are Men, Meqan, Mie’en and Mieken.  Tishena has been reported as the name for highland agriculturalist Me'en.  More recent research by SIL International reports that the name Tishena (Teshina, Teshenna, Tishana), meaning ‘hello’ in Me’en, is a name given by Amhara settlers and advises that this name should be avoided.  The Ethnologue uses the name Banio for the highlanders.  The Banio live in the Bachuma area.

The Bodi group are pastoralists living in the lowlands near the Omo River.  Another lowland group called Koruwo are agriculturalists.  Most of the Me'en live in Ethiopia.  New surveys by SIL International in 2005 reported a total population of 80,000 Me'en, and 51,446 of those monolingual in their form of the Me'en language.  This included 4,553 Bodi.

The word Me'en means "people," "humans."  The Me'en are subsistence-level farmers and herders.  They use hoes for loosening the earth and wooden digging sticks for planting.  They produce no surplus of significance.  There are few details available on the Me'en.

The Me'en live in fear of the spirits which inhabit their people as well as the spirits of their dead ancestors.  Addiction to a locally-made beer, called "sholu," has resulted in the frequent outbreak of fights which has led to killings.



The language of the Me'en people is also called Me'en.  The forms of the language are called by the names of the respective sub-groups speaking that form, Banio.  Koruwo and Bodi (or Podi).  Some sources may refer to the Bodi as a separate people.  The Bodi form of the Me'en language is also known by the name Mela.

The Me'en dialects belong to the Surmic family of languages, and are linguistically similar to Suri and Mursi.  Me'en and its Surmic relatives belong to the Southwestern branch of the Eastern Sudanic languages, related to the Southeastern branch languages Didinga and Murle, spoken in southeastern Sudan.

Second Languages spoken by the Me'en groups are Sudanese Arabic and Amharic.


Political Situation

The Tishena group within the Me'en community have hostile relations with the neighboring Tirma and Chai people.  Their clashes frequently result in fights over territorial rights and some deaths.  The Dime people border them on the east and have fairly peaceful relations.



The Me'en virtually all live in small scattered hamlets and compounds in the rural areas.  Their homes are made of stick walls and grass roofs.

All three peoples of the Surma group share a similar culture, with agricultural and herding variations.  The homeland of the Me'en, Suri and Mursi peoples is remote and distant from control of the central government.

"They have a fierce culture, with a liking for stick fighting called Donga or Saginay bringing great prestige to men — it is especially important when seeking a bride — and they are very competitive, at the risk of serious injury and occasional death. The males are often shaved bald, and frequently wear little or no clothes, even during stick fights." [Surma – Wikipedia]

Traditional Me'en clothing was made from cow, goat, or antelope skins.  Barkcloth clothing came into existence later.  The Me'en once produced their own bark cloth clothing and bags, yet this practice has declined with the availability of imported cloth.  Women wear bracelets consisting of beads and giraffe or warthog hair.

The staple food of the Me'en are corn and sorghum.  In addition, they grow barley, t'eff (a small Ethiopian grain), cabbage, a variety of beans, peas, peppers, sugarcane, and some tobacco.  The Me'en have no access to modern transport or agricultural services.  The chief means of transportation for the Me'en are horse and mule.  They also hunt and gather, trading in antelope, buffalo, and leopard skins.

The main source of fuel for the Me'en is firewood.  Its abundance, however, is rapidly decreasing due to an ever-increasing population.  The average Me'en birthrate is 8 children per married wife.  It is estimated that four out of every ten children die before their sixth year.

The Me'en do not boil their water for drinking nor for the preparation of food.  Water is generally accessed in the highlands from the numerous springs which flow out of the mountainsides.  Lowland Me'en are dependent on the streams which flow from the highlands.  Latrines are non-existent.

A Me'en man can, depending upon his wealth, marry more than ten women.  Most men, however, have one to three wives.  The women plant seeds, weed fields, grind grain, prepare food, draw water, fetch wood, take care of small children, and clean the compound and house.  The also make their own cooking plates, pots, and jugs; baskets; sieves; containers of straw and wood; and fashion gourds into drinking and beer containers.

A study was done in 1989-1991 on the medical practices of the Me'en and the ways in which plants are used in their social rituals.  This downloadable report provides a descriptive survey of the most important plants used and a brief description of the plant's use. They describe plants used for house building and household utensils, plants used for clothing, magical plants, famine plants, medicinal plants, and ritual plants. The emphasis is on medicinal and ritual plants.

The Me'en have special music and dance styles known as the gulay.  The gulay are songs of joy about love, good harvest, prosperity of the family, cattle, and male vigor.  For entertainment, the Me'en enjoy drinking the beer which they make themselves.

When a Me'en dies, an elaborate funeral lasting several days is held.  At the burial, the Me'en will kill cattle or goats and read the intestines in order to discern signs from the spirit realm.  The corpse is then wrapped in cow skin and buried, a procedure meant to appease the spirits of the dead.



The Me'en myth of origin says that their ancestors emerged from a hole in the ground somewhere in southwestern Ethiopia.  The Me'en live in fear of the many spirits which they suppose fill their rivers and woods.  The Me'en believe that communication with the spirit world is indispensable in order to avert misfortune from the spirits of the dead.

The Me'en also believe in a sky god called Tuma.  They believe this god has created them and that he is the god of rain and fertility.  They expect a holy dog to intercede with Tuma on their behalf.  K'alichas, or traditional spirit mediums, practice divination and will place curses on others at the request of their enemies.



The Tishana-Me'en practiceshifting cultivation (maize, sorghum, some teff, barley, lentils andbeans), animal husbandry, and do some hunting and gathering. In the late 19th and early 20th Century, they were more of a cattle-herding people. Nowadays, they are mostly cultivators, but their mobility is greatt. Fields are changed very frequently, and thé location of homesteads every year changes accordingly, although one often remains within thé confines of a (shifting) ancestral clan territory. There are no Me'en villages. Trade is not significant: the Me'en produce no big export crops except some coffee, bought up by non-Me'en traders for transport to regional market centers like Mizan Täfari or Jimma. The level of technology and environmental control is low. Their région is not well-integrated into thé wider Ethiopian society.

Their economy is pre'dominantly geared to subsistence. Apart from the proceeds from coffee sales, occasional cash money is only found by selling livestock or honey in the five kätämas located in the Me'en area (i.e., the original settler-villages founded by northerners in the early years of this Century). Agricultural work in the corn and sorghum fields is mostly collective: work-teams composed of relatives and neighbours clear, burn off and (sometimes) weed the fields, and haul in the erop at harvest time. The sorghum or maize beer (sholu) distributed at collective work-parties is prepared by women. During the growing of the crops, women are responsible for the fields, and also for the gardens near the homesteads, and for petty trade of foodstuff, milk or local beer. They may own some small stock or cattle, but less than the men.

The socio-economic and kinship role of women is in many ways central to Me'en social life, although they do not figure in leading public roles such as komorut, acting clan/lineage head, raider, or diviner.
Me'en social structure is segmented. People are usually identified by membership in nominal patrilineal lineage- or 'clan' groups. Community leaders are the elders, especially those from certain old clans. The former 'rain chiefs' (komorut) of the Me'en have lost most of their influence, though they are still important as mediators, e.g. in homicide compensation settlements.

Nowadays, in the highland setting, it is maize. Compared to sorghum, maize perhaps gives a larger yield per unit of cultivated land and labour input. It is also rauch preferred by thé Me'en for its sweeter taste. But once stored, it is probably more vulnérable to varions insect pests (e.g., weevils) and to rats than sorghum.
Duririg its growth on thé fields, maize may not run more risks from animal pests than sorghum, but it is much less drought-resistant.
Sorghum thus remains an indispensible food crop. In former times, thé Me'en performed their main mosit ceremony (described by Tip-
pett 1970: 89f. as a 'fïrst fruit ceremony') for sorghum, as it is still donc by thé Bodi-Me'en and by thé agro-pastoral Suri people west
of Maji, a group with notable historica! and linguistic affinities with thé Me'en. Today, the Tishana-Me'en (living mainly in an intermediate highland zone, between c. 1100 and 1800 m.) hold the ceremony predominantly for maize, because it is by far their most important staple crop, and, as said, is seen as vulnérable. If the maize-crop fails, there is hunger in thé Me'en area, and external aid in such a case is rare.



  • kwekudee-tripdownmemorylane
  • Orville Boyd Jenkins / August 2012
  • EXTENDED INFORMATION / Jon Abbink / Ritual and environment: The mosit ceremony of the Ethioian Me'en people