The Hamar tribe is one of the tribes that live in the South Omo zone of Ethiopia with around 45,000 inhabitants. The zone as a whole is a fascinating destination for tourism, especially for those who are interested in a different, what many would also call it exotic, cultures and lifestyles. Fuelled by the video and picture hosting social media of our time, the people that live in South Omo Zone, in general, have recently become a global sensation. It is super easy to find pictures of these communities’ lifestyles on magazines, pamphlets, or any kind of media. As a result, you might have seen a picture, or read a story of the South Omo people before.
The Hamar Tribe
Among around 20 tribes that live south of the Omo River, the Hamar tribe is one of the most known. They live in the Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR) of Ethiopia. The zone is named after the Omo River, and it is widely known as ‘Debub’ Omo in Ethiopia for Debub is an Amharic word for South.
Despite their today’s worldwide popularity, however, the region has not been that much known to the outside world. Even though their popularity is on a raise from year to year, they were not that much known to the international community only about 3 decades ago. Consequently, their culture and lifestyle have stayed unchanged, keeping its authenticity for centuries. That authenticity and uniqueness of how they generally live their life has been serving as a magnet for tourists coming from all over the world.
In addition to their colorful lifestyle to the outsider, the Hamar tribe is very much known for their Bull Jumping ceremony and the Evangadi Dancing night.
Bull Jumping Ceremony
The Bull Jumpin Ceremony takes place as part of the Hamar Tribe’s initiation of adulthood for their teenage boys. Known by the locals as Ukuli Bula, the Bull Jumping ceremony marks the becoming of an adult where the young Hamar boys get a permission to marry. Therefore, the Hamar tribe teenagers take this ceremony very seriously, as failure means humiliation and not being granted the permission to marry.
Before the ceremony, the boys decorate their body with various colorful body ornaments, one coloring the other.
They line up around 7-10 bulls so that the teenagers will jump and run over their backs, back and forth. They repeat 4 times, and those who manage to accomplish this without a failure will become Maza, meaning the accomplished one. These ones are the ones that, according to their culture, can go on and marry. On the other hand, in addition to the humiliation they face and the feeling of not becoming an adult, those who failed will have to wait for another year to try it again.
The Whipping Ceremony
Perhaps, one part of the Bull jumping Ceremony of the Hamar tribe is the whipping ceremony. As the Hamar tribe women joyfully dance and sing throughout the event, they hand in a stick to the men and ask them to whip them. The whipping, according to the Hamar, shows their strength, devotion, and beauty. The resulting deep scars remain to attest such qualities.
Even though the whipping results in bleeding and having deep scars, it is a common practice that the women do not flinch during the whipping. Despite the bleeding and pain, the women keep dancing and cheering by blowing horns and handing the sticks to the next men they find. As you can imagine, however, not everybody finds it easy to watch.
In conclusion, the Hamar tribe’s bull jumping ceremony has been practiced by the Hamer community for centuries without losing its authenticity. But it is hard to argue that the authenticity will stay the same for centuries or even decades to come, due to various factors. The circumstances they have been living under decades ago have been changing. In the past, they believed that their world is the Hamar and the Hamar is their only world. Not everyone believes it anymore. The challenges they face in the future include climate change, government policies on land, challenges of localizing the tourism benefits, etc. At the moment, their popularity is ever-increasing among tourists, and experience still lives up to its reputation and one’s expectations of how incredible it is.