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Hamer man, Turmi, Ethiopia | by Eric Lafforgue
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Hamer man, Turmi, 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 Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region (SNNPR). They are largely pastoralists, so their culture places a high value on cattle. There are at least 27 words for the subtle variations of colours and textures of cattle! 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.

Before the jump, the family women of the jumper are whipped to blood, in order to prove their courage and accompany their sons during the test.



The maze is the name given to the whipper running the bull jumping. Mazes are single men who have already performed bull jumping. They are hired to whip the women during the ceremony. As salary, they can earn goats and a jug of money. Mazes have to survive on payments received for bull jumping ceremonies. They only feed themselves with milk, honey and meat. Once they get married, they get a dowry and land if they are lucky. After that, their strict diet is likely to change. The Mazes take part to the elders meeting before the ceremony, so they are important as participant in decision making in their village or tribe.

The teen must jump (in fact walk) 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.

Any boy who fails to complete his runs, however, will be publicly humiliated: he will be whipped by his female relatives and thereafter, for the rest of his life, he will be teased, insulted and beaten by both men and women.


The Hamar are very preoccupied with their beauty. They have at times spectacular haidresses.

Men use a wooden headrest / pillow 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. The most famous hair style for woman 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 catches more especially the attention: it is called the "bignere". It has a phallic-shape end. A man’s first wife can only wear this jewellery. Her status 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 pretender can provide all the money for the ceremony: he has to pay for all the cows the bride-to-be's family asks for. The future bride is called “Uta”; she has to follow a strict ritual before she gets married. Her body is buttered and covered with ochre clay. The soon-to-be bride have to stay at the hut of the family of her husband during one month or until she has her period. She has no right to take baths or showers or to go outside the hut. The reason of this confinement is to be sure that the future bride is not pregnant. Most of the time, the marriage are arranged but the tribes will not allowed a marriage if the husband is not the father of the wife’s child.

Hamer tribe as the Karo and the Bana, still practise ritual infanticide; if the first tooth appears in the upper jaw, instead of the lower, the child becomes what they called “mingi”, and this applies also to the baby teeth and the adult teeth when the kids are 7 or 8.

If a "mingi" kid is kept in the village by the mother, elders believe droughts, famines and diseases will come in the community, so they kill the babies... The practise of “Mingi” is also used to qualify twins, girl (expensive dowries are required to marry a daughter), baby who is born from a non approved pregnancy. As a baby is declared “Mingi” it is like he was sentenced to death, only few of them can survive. The tribes get ride of the “Mingi” kid by leaving them in the desert without food or water or by drowning them in the river. This kind of practise tends to disappear in the Karo tribe.

The weekly markets in Turmi and Dimeka are meeting points where tourist observation and photography can be satisfied against money.


© Eric Lafforgue

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Taken on July 9, 2012