Hamer Tribe of The Omo Valley
The Hamer Tribe are an Omotic people from the Omo Valley in southwestern Ethiopia. They are mainly a pastoralist society who place high importance on cattle. As an important aspect of their lives, cattle are used as bride payments to families for their daughters and in the well-known bull-jumping ceremony - a rite of passage for boys to be recognized as men. In addition to cattle, the Hamer people also raise goats, and grow sorghum. They also collect honey and gather fruits and wild vegetation from the land. The Hamer people are officially Muslim, though, in everyday life, they practice animism.
The Hamer people are closely related to their Omotic neighbours, the Banna and Karo tribes. They share very similar languages and cultural practices, including the bull-jumping ceremony and the minggi ritual, whereby children who are considered impure (eg. children born out of wedlock, twins, children with deformities or with top teeth erupting before the ones on the bottom jaw) are left to die to mitigate their evil influence on the tribe. Though now banned by the Karo tribe, this tradition continues on in other Omotic communities. The Hamer and Banna people are so similar that even my native Ethiopian guide during the tour is unable to differentiate them without directly asking the person in question, of his or her ethnic background.
The Hamer people, particularly the girls and women, decorate themselves with elaborate jewelry, made from colourful beads, metal jewelry and cowry shells, and goatskin skirts. Married women also wear distinct wedge necklaces. The Hamer use butter and red ochre to colour their hair, giving them an iconic look.
The bull-jumping ceremony forms an important aspect of the Hamer people, as the rite of passage for boys to manhood. Without completing successfully the bull-jumping, the boy is not considered as a man and is thus, unable to marry. Women relatives of the bull-jumper support him by fearlessly allowing themselves to be whipped until their bodies are bloody and permanently scarred. In return for their sacrifice, the women relatives hope that the man will help them in times of hardship. Once the boy has completed successfully the bull-jumping (which he does so in the nude), he becomes a Maza. The Maza hold the honour of whipping the women during the bull-jumping ceremonies.
In my interaction and experience with the Hamer people, despite their traditional rituals of whipping women and minggi, I found them to be warm, gentle, and very beautiful people. Compared to other tribes I've visited during my trip, the Hamer people are good-natured, cheerful, and less distant. In fact, they seem very pleased that their culture is appreciated. I remember fondly the giggles of the Hamer girls when they ask for their photographs to be taken, and how they would grab their close friends to have their photographs taken together. During the bull-jumping ceremony, they were unperturbed by the army of camera-totting tourists and graciously accommodated the endless photo-taking that would inevitably intrude into their important ceremony.
If you are visiting Ethiopia, do consider a road trip down south to visit the Hamer people, and admire the culture and traditions of these beautiful people.
For video footage of my experience with the Hamer people, please have a look at the videos below.
Visiting a Hamer Village and Meeting the Local Villagers
Hamer Weekly Market in Dimeka
Hamer Bull-jumping Ceremony
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