The hot air is filled with dust and an atmosphere of excitement. Animals are being rounded up and men select switches (flexible wooden rods), which will soon be used to draw human blood. It’s an important day for the tribe, and for one man in particular, who will later be initiated into adulthood. Beer and food are passed around, and everyone looks forward to the impending ritual.
If the boy at the center of the festivities feels a little pensive, it wouldn’t be surprising. Why? Because later on, he will need to summon all his strength and agility for a huge leap over a line of cattle that he will need to successfully complete in order to enter adulthood.
The Hamer people of the Omo Valley in Ethiopia have lived their lives virtually undisturbed by outsiders for centuries. What’s more, the region in which they live is even more ancient. The site is on the UNESCO World Heritage List, and according to UNESCO, the area is “unlike any other place on Earth in that so many different types of people have inhabited such a small area of land over many millennia.” Today’s colorful ritual is just one small aspect of an area rich in both history and culture.
continue reading : The Bull Jumping and Whipping Rituals of Ethiopia's Hamer Tribe - Part II
The men and women of the Hamer tribe take a lot of care in their appearance. This woman’s traditional clothing is made of soft cow skin, decorated along the edges with a border of beads. She is adorned with metal bracelets, cowry shells, and beads, most of which she will wear her whole life.
The woman’s intricately plaited hair, meanwhile, is covered in red ochre. And the torque around her neck indicates that she is a first wife and serves as a symbol of status amongst the tribe. This elaborate attire is not just about fashion, and almost every article of clothing carries some symbolic meaning for the Hamer.
Although today’s ritual is primarily a coming-of-age ceremony for boys, girls play an important, and possibly even more daunting, part in the proceedings as well. In preparation for what’s to come, the women drink sorghum beer and dance and sing songs of praise for the young men of their family who take part.
The scars on this woman’s arm are decorative, formed by cutting the skin and rubbing charcoal into the wound. Among the Hamer people, there’s no place for the faint-hearted – as we shall soon see.
Once they have drunk enough and roused themselves with blasts on metal “gola” horns, the women are ready to start their rather extreme form of cheerleading. They make their way over to the “maza” – young men who have already completed their own cow jumping ceremonies. Their skin is shiny from the butter they have applied to it, and their backs are bare. They are ready to do their bit.
Only very young girls and the boy’s mother are excluded from taking part in this show of solidarity. But his most enthusiastic supporters are his sisters.