Hamer Tribe Woman, Turmi, Omo Valley, Ethiopia
The Hamar (or Hamer or Hammer) is a tribe with a total population of about over 35,000, which lives in Hamer Bena woreda, 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 menaning of their life. There are at least 27 words for the subtle variations of colours and textures of a cattle! And each man has three names: a human, a goat and a cow name.
Honey collection is their major activity.They are as well semi nomadic and migrate every few months to find pastures for their goats and cattle. They have a special relationship with Bana-Bashada group than the others as they share a common language and culture.
Hamer society consists of a complex system of age groups. To pass from one age group to another involves complicated rituals. The bull-jumping is the most significant ceremony in the social life of the Hamer, the final test before passing into adulthood and in order to get married. The teen must jump naked over a number of bulls without falling. That is why we can mention it as cow jumping or bull leaping. If he is able to complete this task, he will become a man and be able to marry a woman.
The Hamar are very preoccupied with their beauty. They have at times spectacular haidresses.
Men use a wooden head rest which prevents the hair from touching the ground. It is used as head rest to protect the clay wig that some do on the top of the head, but it is also useful as a seat.
Women know many ways to do their hair. The most famous hair style is when their hair is in short tufts rolled in ochre and fat or in long twisted strands. These coppery coloured strands are called "goscha", it's a sign of health and welfare.
They also wear bead necklaces, iron bracelets around their arms, and decorate their breast with lots of cowry shells, like a natural bra.
Around married women's necks, you can see "esente": torques made of iron wrapped in leather. These are engagement presents; they are worn for life and indicate their husband's wealth. One of the necklaces catch more especially the attention: it is called the "bignere". It has a phallic-shape end. This jewelry can only be worn by a man's first wife.
Her statut is the higher one in Hamer society. The Hamar women who are not first wife have a really hard life and they are more slaves than wives...
The young unmarried girls, for their part, wear a kind of oval shape plate, in metal. It is used like a sunshield, but it tends to be rare in the tribe. Some of them have fund their future husband, but have to wait in their house until the so-called prentender can provide all the money for the ceremony: he has to pay for all the cows the bride-to-be's family asks for. These girls are called "Uta" and have to wait weeks, entirely covered with red clay... And no right to take baths or showers . They cannot go out of the house. Friends bring her food.
A cruel tradition still has currency for some Hamar: the babies who have the upper teeth first coming out, are abandonned in the bush. This tradition tends to disapear but NGO Omochild still save abandonned new borns in Jinka. Abandonments are all the more frequent than some Hamar believe that a child born out of formal marriages has "mingi", as to say something abnormal and unclean. For them, it is the expression of the devil, which may cause disasters such as epidemics or drought in the village. So, illegitimate children are abandoned. This kind of beliefs can also be observed in other Ethiopan tribes.
The weekly markets in Turmi and Dimeka are meeting points where tourist observation and photography can be satisfy against money.
© Eric Lafforgue