Return to Africa Gallery top

Ethiopia : The Hamar People of the Omo Valley
    Also known as the Hamer tribe

Hamar people (also spelled Hamer) are an Omotic community inhabiting the hills on the eastern side of the Omo Valley in southwestern Ethiopia. The vast majority (99.13%) live in Hamer woreda (or district), a fertile part of the Omo River valley, in the Debub Omo Zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region (SNNPR). They are largely pastoralists, so their culture places a high value on cattle. The 2003 national census reported 46,532 people in this ethnic group, of whom 10000 were urban inhabitants.
The Hamar are known for their unique custom of "bull jumping," which initiates a boy into manhood. First, in the preparations for this ceremony, female relatives and female friends (especially those who are secretly in love with the young man ) dance and invite terrible whipping with a switch ( a thin branch ) from young men who have recently been initiated themselves and are close friends or relatives of the initiate; in this way the women are demonstrating publicly their support of, and love for the initiate, and their scars, which they will proudly be display for life, give them a say in who he is to marry. During this ritual, and the very real whipping these women, from older adolescents to the older aunts and grandmothers, none of them will ever complain or show their pain, in spite of all the blood spilled. It is quite impressive.
The actual initiation : The boy must run naked back and forth twice across the backs of a row of of seven or 10 bulls while his best friends hold the bulls in place, but he is ridiculed if he falls or otherwise fails. If he really wants to show off his courage he might do three or four passages.
Unfortunately, we propose almost no photos here of the ceremony itself, simply because as field producer I had other things to do during the action !
Another interesting custom is that the Hamer people drink coffee, as it grows naturally here, but they roast and boil only the husks of the coffee beans to make their coffee. ( I can't remember what they might use the coffee beans themselves for ! Perhaps they use them only to sell ?! ) BUT, if a person is in need of the elders' blessings before some venture, such as a long voyage or some kind of challenging undertaking, he will meet with the elders in the chief's hut and the elders will pass around from one to the next a calabash filled with coffee : each elder will pronounce a short blessing and then take a mouthful of this coffee and spit it on the face of the person being blessed.