We first encountered the Hamer tribe at Dimeke Saturday market. Whilst travelling down a bumpy road with sweetcorn and sunflowers on either side, Eskedar, our guide, stopped to chat to local people. We were told we were fortunate as there was going to be a bull jumping ceremony later in the afternoon. He said that this was pure co-incidence and not for tourists, yet we still needed to pay 500 (£16) birr each, which we said we were happy to do. The ceremony is a right of passage for making a boy into a man and involves running naked across the backs of a line of cattle. If successful, he becomes known as a Maza – accomplished one – and is entitled to take the first of several brides.
We arrived at the market full of both Hamer and Bena people. The Hamer women use red clay in their hair which is cut into a very distinctive straight bob and fringe. They wore goat skins and lots of metal jewellery on their wrists and ankles which jangle when dancing. Bena men wear colorful clay caps decorated with feathers whilst the women wear beads in their hair held together with butter.
This was a local market selling a variety of goods including, corn, clay powder for their hair, Moringa leaves (which are boiled like cabbage), tobacco and clothes. Unlike the lip-plated Mursi tribe we’d visited, these people were more interested in buying and selling goods rather than having their photo taken.
There were a few tourists and as it was exceedingly hot, we had a cold soft drink in what was a hotel, but which had a dreadful loo (flies buzzing round the hole in the concrete floor).
We were then told the bull jumping ceremony wouldn’t start for another two hours and so because it was by now 30 plus degrees, reluctantly decided to give it a miss and head to Buska Lodge. Here we met up with guests who told us they’d asked to see what was happening and found the Hamer women dancing and blowing brass horns whilst being whipped (we’d seen bare backed women with whipping scars at the market) It all seemed terribly barbaric and we were glad we’d decided not to stay.
The following afternoon, we visited a Hamer village 3 km away from Buska Lodge and picked up our village guide, Haile, along the way. On arrival, it appeared this would be the most touristic of our tribal visits as there were already a lot of cars around. However, Haile and Eskedar managed to keep us well away from all the other people.
We had the usual introduction and photo opportunity before walking around the village and compounds – this one was more unusual as all the cattle and sheep were being brought in for the evening. Each compound had a small pen made from sticks where the baby goats were kept. We saw both goat and cattle skins being stretched and dried by being pegged on with wooden stakes on the ground. As we were waiting for the sun to go down, a little girl aged around four returned from collecting water with her toddling brother who latched himself on to one of the goat’s teats to drink milk.
We were introduced to a young man (they do not talk about age or numbers of cattle for some reason) who had been given what looked like a wooden darning mushroom, with beads wrapped round. by his father. This signalled his father was ready for him to marry so the poor guy had to walk from village to village giving out verbal invitations to his bull jumping ceremony. He had walked 50+ km to get to the village.
Just after setting off the following morning, we passed bull jumping boy. We stopped to chat and he asked for a lift as he was going to Dimeke and as we all agreed, he got in the front and I budged up in the back of our 4WD once again. I suggested to Eskedar that in return for the ride we have some ‘free’ photographs. We dropped bull jumping boy off 30 minutes later having had our photographs taken with him.