Famous for the Bull Jumping Ceremony, the Hamar people are principally pastorals, breeding cattle, goats and sheep. They have a similar veneration for cattle as their close neighbors. The women and girls grow crops, with the staple being sorghum, but they also grow beans, maize and pumpkin. The women are also responsible for collecting water, cooking, and looking after the household and children – who start helping the family by herding the goats from around age eight. The young men of the village work the crops and defend the herds, while adult men herd the cattle, plough with the oxen and raise beehives in acacia trees.
The Hamar are amongst the most readily identifiable of all the peoples of the South Omo. Women wear an elaborately decorated goatskin, often colored with beads and cowries. Beaded necklaces, bracelets and waistbands adorn their bodies, which, for the Hamar, tend to be made with black and red beads. (The Banna, their close neighbors, mostly use blue and black beads). Women wear thick copper necklaces announcing their marital status. They wear a lather long tipped necklace and two copper necklaces if they’re the first wife and only two copper necklaces if they’re second, third or fourth wife to one man.
One striking characteristic of the Hamar men and women is that they indulge in elaborate hair-dressing. Men wear a clay cap which is painted and decorated with feathers and other ornaments. They also paint themselves with white chalk paste during ceremonial events. The women decorate their hair with clay and butter twisted into a striking long plait. Ethnic men are often seen carrying a small stool or pillow in the Omo region in general.
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Bull Jumping Ceremony of the Hamar Tribe
Cattle Jumping (ukule Bulla) A Hamar man comes of age by leaping over a line of cattle. This ceremony qualifies him to marry, own cattle and have children. The timing of the ceremony is decided by the man’s parents and usually happens after the harvest. Prior to the ceremony the male who has to jump walks to neighboring settlements to announce his intent to jump and to distribute invitations (usually a strip of bark with a number of knots, one for each day left before the ceremony).
On the afternoon of the leap, as guests gather, the man’s female relatives demand to be whipped as part of the ceremony. The Maza (a man who has already jumped the cattle between three months) uses a long fin stick and strikes the girls on their exposed backs. This is a consensual act, with the girls begging and singing to the Maza so that he continues whipping them. This is not only a show of strength from the girls, who proudly show off their scars, but it also symbolizes their affiliation towards their kin. Her scars are a mark of how she suffered for her brothers and relatives.
The young man who is to leap has his head partially shaved and he’s rubbed with sand to wash away his sins. He’s then smeared with dung to give him strength, while strips of tree bark are strapped around his body in a cross as a form of spiritual protection.
The Maza and the elders line up between eight and twenty cows and castrated male cattle. To come of age, the man must leap across the line four times. Only when he has been through this initiation rite can he marry the wife chosen for him by his parents, and start to build up his own herd. Once his marriage has been agreed, a dowry of around twenty cattle and thirty goats must be paid to the bride’s family.