Hamer Bull Jumping Ceremony

Trip Start Oct 11, 2012
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Trip End Nov 19, 2012


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Where I stayed
Cascade Campsite
What I did
Hamer Bull Jumping Ceremony
Kolcho - Karo village

Flag of Ethiopia  , And People's Region,
Sunday, October 21, 2012


We left after 8 am and went to the Karo, or Kara, village of Kolcho.  The Karo people are known for their face and body painting - spots for leopard and guinea fowl.  The village was on a headland above the Omo River-definitely the most photogenic village we visited.  We had crossed another smaller river that divided the Karo and Hamer peoples.  The Hamer have more cattle and the Kara, more goats.  The Karo are fairly close to the Kenyan border.  They used to be at war with the Hamer but the government worked on reconciling them.  Now they are at peace and there are marriages between people of the different tribes.

The Karo people were friendlier than the Mursi but still get 5 birr for adult photos and 2 birr for children.  Maybe as a result of their exotic appearance.  I followed Esther who was taking a photo of an older woman sifting grain and Sue who was taking a photo of a woman with two children.  Hmmm, now which group was that - I see the mother with four children.  I spent at least 40 birr from Kibrom and a whole bunch of my own one note birrs.  Actually, we have to repay Kibrom - it was only a loan.  It was, however, a prized Exodus tour bonus to have all those one birr notes handy and not have to be making all the exchanges ourselves.  I ended up borrowing 11 birr from Mick. 

There was a young boy attaching himself to me and then a young woman with a baby and they all wanted my bat necklace and my headlamp as trade for taking a photo of the baby and being a friend.  Neither of which did I want at that point.  We left after we were mostly exhausted again.  This is definitely hard work.  It is unfortunate that I am so fixated on taking photos that these encounters become stressful rather than a means of connecting with people.  Yet, in some ways, this village and these people had a positive vibe...in retrospect.  Of course, I always have the option of not taking photos.

My notes say that our drive was almost 2 hours and that we passed
lots of elephant trees and other interesting plants, including aloe vera.  
We had a quick lunch back at the campsite:  pizza!!  Then we went off to the bull jumping ceremony:  a Hamer youth will jump over bulls to prove he is ready to marry.  First we walked along the river bed to the Hamer cultural area where there was dancing and some men were getting their faces painted.  Shauneen got hers painting as well.  The women dancing were all dressed up in skins, beads.  Their hair was oiled with butter and red clay which then dripped down and covered their faces and backs as well.  They fix their hair in braided strings and it is very attractive.  Part of the ceremony involves the friends of the young man who is doing the bull jumping to lash the backs of the young man's women relatives and friends so that their backs bleed.  You could hear the branches or whatever they used cracking and a loud whack as they hit the women's backs.  Ouch - it was rather disturbing to see (and hear). 

After awhile the dancing stopped and the people moved on.  We walked up the road and then through some paths in the bushes.  It started to rain and people took shelter under the bushes, or as much under as they could get.  I joined Bev and Worku beneath some branches but my pants got wet as the rain came down harder.  The rain didn't last too long though and we continued to a clearing where people were gathered to dance again.  Now there were as many men dancing as women.  The cattle had been driven along the road to this place as well and the men spent some time in trying to get them into position for the bull jumper.  Actually, when I look at the photos, it may have been the women who got the cattle into position....

The young man had to jump up onto the backs of the cattle and hop along their backs, then reverse direction, hop down to the ground, and repeat.  I think he must have done it 6-8 times.  There was a circle around him - mostly of men as I remember.  It was harder for us tourists to see or get photos since we had to stand outside the perimeter line.  Some of our group managed to get positions facing the line of bulls so they could probably see him walk on the bulls whereas the rest of us only saw him bopping along above the shoulders of the inner circle spectators.  It was quite exciting - with all the clamor of horns or other noisemakers - like New Year's Eve.

After the jumping was over, there was a blessing ceremony that Doris was able to photograph.  The bull jumper then got his skins to symbolize his courage and demonstrate his marriageability.  I didn't really see that part although I did get a photo of him being congratulated...I believe.  We walked back.  Kibrom said he had been to 7 bull jumping ceremonies this year with Exodus tours so I guess it is fairly common, but I am certainly glad to have had a chance to experience it.
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