PEOPLE, PLACES & PULPED PALAVER: The Hamar Tribe, Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is one of the countries that make up the Eastern Africa. It is the most populous landlocked country in the world. It has a rich heritage and history, and features prominently in the bible, the holy book of Christians believers. Archeological findings in the vast and rugged country date back to about 3 million years, with obelisks, tombs and rock cut Christian churches found. Also, it is important to know that its monarchical government system goes way back to the 2nd millennium, BC. Ethiopians use the ancient Ge’ez script, which is one of the oldest alphabets ever used in the world. The Ethiopian calendar is unique and different from the Gregorian calendar, with a difference of 7 years and 3 months separating them.

With the national language being Amharic, there are upto 80 ethnic groups that make up its over 109 million population. The largest ethnic groups are Oromo (who take up the highest percentage), the Amhara, Somali, Tigraway, Sidama, Gurage, Wolayta, Afar, Hadiya, Gamo and others. In the Omo Valley, over 46 ethnic tribes live there and include  the Benna, Ari, Mursi, Bume, Karo, Tsemay, Konso, Hamar, Dassecnech, and Borenna, among others. We shall dwell on the Hamar people, who live in the Hamer Woreda, a fertile patch of the Omo River Valley located in the Southwestern Ethiopia. They are a minority ethnic group that speak the Omotic languages, and are estimated to be around 45,000 in number. They speak mainly the Hamer language. Majority of the Hamar people live in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR). They are pastoralists and highly value their herds of cattle.

A unique and stand out tradition practiced by the Hamar tribe is the whipping of women and bull jumping by the men.

Cattle jumping is part of the rite of passage fore male initiates into manhood

It is said that Hamar men are initiated into manhood when they jump over the back of bulls. Successful jumping over a row of around 15 cows and a castrated bulls male qualify the initiates and give them the right to marry, have children and own herds of cattle. The ceremony usually happens at the time of harvest and depends on the plans of the parents of the prospect. On the day of the leap, after days of feasting and drinking the traditional brew, the initiate’s female relatives demand to be whipped. The girls go to meet the initiate, who lives apart from rest of the tribe with a group of men who had already jumped across backs of the bulls. The women beg to be whipped on their backs, and when whipped until their backs are bloody, they do not flee or scream in plain. They wear the scars with pride, and win the right to demand for support and help at any time of need.

Girl relatives their back become bloddy, creating a life debt-bond with the initiate.

The ritual whipping actually strengthens the debt bound between the man and his sisters, as the scars give him a solemn reminder of the pain she underwent during his initiation to manhood.

The initiate to the ceremony is usually partially shaved and rubbed with sand to wash away his past transgressions. As part of the ritual, strips of a back tree are strapped around his body to provide spiritual protection. He then has to walk across the backs of slippery dung-smeared cattle lined up to four times. Falling is unacceptable, and leads to ridicule. He has to try again until he succeeds. Then, the initiate upon proper completion of the rite, is allowed to marry a wife chosen for him by his parents, and start putting up his herd of cattle. Marriage payments amount to 30 goats and 20 cattle, which usually is a lifetime debt.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Sandy says:

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