HAMER PEOPLE: THE ETHIOPIAN TRIBE WITH THE FAMOUS BULL JUMPING CEREMONY
INDEPENDENT NEWS & MEDIA
DESIGNED BY ZEWDU TEKLU
© COPYRIGHT. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 2007.
The Hamar live among the bush covered hills on the eastern side of the Omo Valley in southern Ethiopia. They are a tribe
with unique rituals such as a cattle-leaping ceremony that men go through in order to reach adulthood, whereupon young
Hamar women get whipped to prove their love for their kinsmen.
The 15,000 to 20,000 members of the Hamar make their living as successful cattle herders and farmers. Once they hunted,
but the wild pigs and small antelope have almost disappeared from the lands in which they live; and until 20 years ago, all
ploughing was done by hand with digging sticks.
The land isn’t owned by individuals; it’s free for cultivation and grazing, just as fruit and berries are free for whoever collects
them. The Hamar move on when the land is exhausted or overwhelmed by weeds.
Often families will pool their livestock and labour to herd their cattle together. In the dry season, whole families go to live in
grazing camps with their herds, where they survive on milk and blood from the cattle. Just as for the other tribes in the valley,
cattle and goats are at the heart of Hamar life. They provide the cornerstone of a household's livelihood; it’s only with cattle
and goats to pay as ‘bride wealth’ that a man can marry.
There is a division of labour in terms of sex and age. The women and girls grow crops (the staple is sorghum, alongside
beans, maize and pumpkins). They’re also responsible for collecting water, doing the cooking and looking after the children -
who start helping the family by herding the goats from around the age of eight. The young men of the village work the crops,
defend the herds or go off raiding for livestock from other tribes, while adult men herd the cattle, plough with oxen and raise
beehives in acacia trees.
Sometimes, for a task like raising a new roof or getting the harvest in, a woman will invite her neighbours to join her in a work
party in return for beer or a meal of goat, specially slaughtered to feed them.
Relations with neighbouring tribes vary. Cattle raids and counter-raids are a constant danger. The Hamar only marry
members of their own tribe, but they have nothing against borrowing – songs, hairstyles, even names – from other tribes in
the valley like the Nyangatom and the Dassanech.