Hamer Tribe

Home Of The Bull Jumping Ceremony

Located in the far south west of Ethiopia live the 50,000 strong Hamar tribe, one of the most known Ethiopian tribes. They live in the territory east of the Omo River and have two villages, Turmi and Dimeka.

They are agro pastoralists, which means that they are both successful cattle herders and farmers. The land isn’t owned by individuals; it’s free for cultivation and grazing. The Hamar move on when the land is exhausted. In the dry season, whole families go to live in grazing camps with their herds, where they survive on milk and blood from the cattle.

Just as for the other tribes in the valley, cattle and goats are at the heart of Hamar life. They provide the cornerstone of a household’s livelihood; it’s only with cattle and goats to pay as ‘bride wealth’ that a man can marry.

The Hamer tribe have unique rituals such as the bull jumping ceremony that boys go through in order to reach adulthood. It’s the ceremony which qualifies him to marry, own cattle and have children. The timing of the ceremony is up to the man’s parents and happens after harvest. As an invitation, the guests receive a strip of bark with a number of knots – one to cut off for each day that passes in the run up to the ceremony.

For the young man leaping over the cattle, before the ceremony his head is partially shaved, he is rubbed with sand to wash away his sins, and smeared with dung to give him strength. Finally, strips of tree bark are strapped round his body in a cross, as a form of spiritual protection.

Meanwhile, the Maza and elders line up about 15 cows and castrated male cattle, which represent the women and children of the tribe. The cattle in turn are smeared with dung to make them slippery. To come of age, the man must leap across the line four times. If he falls it is a shame, but he can try again. At the end of the leap, he is blessed and sent off with the Maza who shave his head and make him one of their number. His kinsmen and neighbours decamp for a huge dance.