Cris in Ethiopia

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If I was a Hamer, Id Hamer in the Morning…

Posted by Cris on September 28, 2007

We arrived in the small town of Turmi, the center of the Hamer area, and headed to where there was a bull-jumping happening. The Hamer tribe requires its boys, in order to become men, to jump the backs of bulls. They run at the bulls, naked, and jump up and run along their backs. They repeat this a bunch of times, in the case of the guy we saw, 6 times. As long as they can do this without falling they are declared a man, their unshorn hair is cut, and they can marry.

The ceremony is a celebration for the whole village, with women dancing, lots of singing, and everyone in their best clothes. Another odd facet of the ceremony is that girls related to the boy who is jumping show their love and devotion by getting whipped with long wooden switches- the deeper the cut the more they love him. So these girls were chasing the boys with switches, basically begging to be hit. Many had deep cuts on their backs, and were also getting switched on the breasts, which didnt cut them (they were wearing shirts) but mustve left one hell of a welt.


I wont keep you in suspense any longer- the boy in question became a man with no problem. 


We arrived at the (dry) river where it was taking place and our guid set us loose, saying to take all the pictures we wanted. It was incredibly awkward feeling- these were people. How would they respond to having their pictures taken? We tried to be nonchalant about it, and it was good once we got warmed up. Many people, especially the men, loved it. They wanted to use the camera, which was funny since they had no idea how to use it. They got the hang of it pretty quick, and loved seeing pics of themselves. Some guys painting their faces drug us into their circle and painted ours too. Later, closer to jumping time, an old man grabbed Amy’s hand and took her over to all the women dancing and shouting and she was quickly enveloped into a jumping sweaty muddy mass of women, chanting with the best of them.


That night we camped in the same village, and got invited to their dance. It took place at night, and was a pretty surreal experience. Men jumping, women returning the favor, clapping, bells, chanting, and through all of it dust rising from their stomping feet into the moonlight. The moon and stars were phenominal there with no artificial light to rival them. We both danced and got thorougly laughed at, but it was fun. We fell asleep in our tent, looking at the stars, the sounds of the people still dancing in the distance, and slept wonderfully. We occasionally awoke to people walking by on the path, never failing to stop and stare at the sleeping farenjis.


Amy had persuaded one of the girls the night before to lend her one of their traditional goat-skin skirts, so she put it on the next morning and was appreased by the men and women alike. I think they liked it but were disappointed she still had a shirt on. They were fascinated when she put her contacts in that morning, gathering around to see what she was doing.


It was great to feel welcomed and not threatened in such a strange place, and fun to have people feel just as curious about us as we were of them.


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