Aside from the dramatic views back to the rift valley lakes near Arbaminch, Chencha is of interest to travelers as the home of the Dorze people, renowned cotton weavers whose tall beehive-shaped dwellings are among the most distinctive traditional structures to be seen anywhere in Africa. The Dorze speak an Omotic tongue, similar to several languages of the Lower Omo Valley. It is, above all, the unique Dorze houses that make Chencha worth a diversion. These remarkable extended domes measure up to 6m tall (roughly the height of a two-storey building), and are constructed entirely from organic material.
The Dorze are a relatively small group close to Arba Minch, mostly known for their construction capacity. They have, for 100s of years apparently, built fabulously tall houses, from a bamboo frame woven together with grass and banana leaves. Very attractive structures, all the more so because they do not require a central supporting pole inside, and can simply be picked up and put down somewhere else, should the family move, or should the termites eat too much of the bottom of the structure in one particular place.
All this makes the Dorze people, who live in the villages of Chencha and Dorze, a tourist attraction, and thanks to Dutch development aid, the village has established a smooth tourist reception and management system, centered around the local tourist guide association. In short, one is being dropped at one of the houses, taken outside and inside, shown a weaver (the community is famous for weaving, too), shown how they make food, and then guided towards the tourist shop where they sell the weavings, whilst you wait for the local food to be served – a kind of pancake with honey. Smooth tourist management, but every sense of authenticity is well and truly gone, of course. Still, the houses are impressive.
What also makes Dorze attractive is its altitude, at 2900 m well over twice as high as nearby Arba Minch. The steep ascent provides not only nice views over the mountain slopes and the lake below, but it also crosses some real forest, with real trees, unheard of almost everywhere else in Ethiopia. Of course, they don’t need wood for their houses here….
Although the Dorze are not part of the South Omo Valley tribes, visiting them is not much different; more on those tribes, as well as my view on this circus, can be accessed through the Ethnic Minorities entry.