Traveling Nancy

Traveling around the world as far as I can go.

Hamar People – Cattle Jumping – Jan 14th


When we were eating breakfast this morning, I told Ayu about the note in our room which said that checkout time was at 4:00 am. Jane and I thought that was strange. That is when we learned about Ethiopian time. AM time is from when the sun rises (about 6:00 am according to our clocks) until the sun sets (at about 6:00 pm for our time). So all daylight hours are AM times and all the hours after sunset hours are PM.   That system sure makes sense for this part of the world.

On our way to the Hamar market, we passed these two women who were walking down the road.  Ayu stopped so I could take a photo and I paid them each 5 birr. Ayu told me the name of the tribe but I didn’t write it down correctly.  Later I was told that they are from both the Tsemay and Banna tribes so I hope this information is correct.  The Tsemay and Banna are close neighbors. Many Tsemay live in the town of Weyto.  They are likely on the way to a market.

Ayu found our guide outside of the marketplace and we started walking through the market. I took a photo of this woman who is from the Karo People She was shopping at the Hamar market.

The guide said it was okay to take general photos of the market so, of course, I took as many as I could.

This woman’s back is scared from being hit at one of the Cattle Jumping events.  I will write more about that later in this post.  There are also scars cut into her upper arm and shoulder.  Women do this to make themselves attractive and also to show their strength.

In one section of the market the people were selling food, coffee, etc. This is where the local people were shopping.

We walked through another sections where they were selling items that were likely meant more for tourists and Jane purchased a necklace.

I was told that these necklaces are worn by the first wife of a Hamar man.

We looked through this section and then returned to the area where the local people were shopping.

Charcoal was for sale in several areas.

These men were unloading a truck.

I continued taking as many photos as I could.

Hair grooming is paramount to Hamar concepts of beauty. Women roll their locks with fat and red ochre (assile) and then twist them into crimson-colored dreds called goscha, a style that men find attractive.

As we were walking out of the market, we saw a woman who was wearing a Timber’s t-shirt.  The guide helped me to explain to her that it was for a team from the city where we lived. So she let me take her photo and, of course, I thanked her and showed the photo to her.  She had a big smile.

These are some things I learned about the Hamar People from both the guide and from A Guide to the Ethnic Groups Omo Valley Southern Ethiopia by Minalu Adem

  • The Hamar people are principally pastoralists, 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 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 eight years old.
  • 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.
  • As with the majority of ethnic groups in the area, the land is not owned by individuals. The land is free for use by any member of the group. The Hamar move on when they have exhausted the land.
  • They usually eat either sorghum or mixed with milk or boiled coffee husk (shoforo). Balasha,
  • Dry bread mainly from sorghum is sometimes eaten with butter and honey.
  • The Hamar are easily identifiable. The women wear an elaborately decorated goatskin often worn with colored with beads and cowries. Beaded necklaces, bracelets and waistbands (usually made with black and red beads) adorn their bodies.
  • Women wear thick copper necklaces announcing their marital status. They wear a leather long topped 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.
  • In addition to the women grooming their hair into goscha, the men sometimes 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 Hamar have five types of marriage

  • Arranged marriage
  • Consensual marriage
  • Marriage through Abduction (now illegal so it could be rare. If both sets of parents agree, it likely still happens in remote areas.
  • Marriage by inheritance
  • Replacement marriage

I could hardly believe that we were in this area on the day a Cattle Jumping event was happening.  I went with Ayu and a guide named Kulo who is from the Hamar area. Here is the information I read about the ceremony including a couple of my reactions and photos I took.

  • A man comes of age by leaping over a line of cattle.   The 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. It seemed strange to me that there was a cattle jumping ceremony when we were there because this is not harvest time.
  • Prior to the ceremony the male who has to jump usually 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)

The guide and Ayu led me to the place where the ceremony was going to take place.  They told me that the cost for this event would be 600 birr (about $22 US dollars)

  • They were preparing paint to paint the faces of the men who have already jumped the cattle. These men are called the Maza.

  • There were many tourists around the area watching the Maza have their faces painted and also having their faces painted.

  • Ayu encouraged me to get my face painted.  Painting tourists’ faces is certainly not part of the Hamar People’s traditional ceremony.

Ayu took a photo of me with a couple of the Maza …

…and we also had  our photo taken together.

  • Before the cattle jumping, man’s female relations demand to be whipped as part of the ceremony.  The women gather around in a group, laughing and helping each other to tie up their shirts which exposes their backs.

  • They dance and sing around in a circle.

  • Women each blow a horn and sing a song as they jump around in front of the Maza.
  • The Maza use a long fine 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 considered not only a show of strength from the girls, who proudly show off their scars, but it also symbolizes their affection towards their kin. Their scars are a mark of how they suffered for their brothers and relatives. The deeper their scars, the more love they show for their boy. It’s as disturbing as it is intriguing.

Even though I knew what was going to happen, watching these women (both young and older) blow their horns and sing a song asking the men (Maza) to hit them with the long fine stick was difficult to witness. Many of them went through this ritual over and over again.  On one website I read that the women pass around gords of sorghum beer and wine during this ritual.  I did not see that happening.

  • How can I describe how hard it was see the scars on their backs both the old ones and the new ones? I chose to be at this event and I was there with many, many other tourists.  I know that witnessing this ritual with my own eyes had a much more powerful impact on me than when I heard about it before I came here.


The guide led me to another place and put a couple of rocks on the ground so I could sit on them as I was waiting for the next part of the ceremony.

Below is more of what I read in the book.

  • 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 and wide strips of tree bark are strapped around his body in a cross as a form of spiritual protection. In the ceremony I witnessed, his naked body seemed to be covered in some kind of oil.
  • 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 o 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 ride’s family.

In the ceremony I witnessed, there were only 4 cows lined up for him to jump.  He did jump back and forth across the  backs of the cattle four times.


There were many tourists also watching.  When the event was over I went with the guide to give my money to a man.  I was told that he was the father of the boy who jumped the bulls.

As I was writing this post, I was still reverberating over the fact that I didn’t only read about this day in a book, or watch it in a movie, or look at other people’s photos. I was actually there to experienced this incredible event.  It will be a day that I will never forget.

Tonight we stayed at the Buska Lodge which was much more comfortable than in Jinka.  I didn’t take any photos so I copied this one of a room from the website.

At dinner we were told by other tourists that the money I paid to see the bull jumping was divided between the father of the boy who jumped and the guide association that brings tourists to see the event.

Author: Nancy Panitch

Traveling has been a passion of Nancy Panitch's life and she loves seeing how people in other cultures live. Her travels have taken her to many places within the United States, Asia, Europe, South America, and Africa. Being around people inspires her and she has much gratitude for the kindred Souls that are joining together with her in body, mind, and heart. She moved from Chicago to Portland, Oregon in 1982. It was one of the best decisions of her life. While in Portland she stays very, VERY busy. She volunteers (Inter-Religious Action Network, Human Rights Council, & ushering for various theaters); attends a Unitarian Universalist church; goes hiking with groups (Cascade Prime Timers & Trails Club of Oregon) and also with individual friends. Book groups, movie group, and bridge groups occupy her time as well. Her quiet activities include yoga, knitting, Sudoku, and reading. She enjoys all of these activities, but making time to see her wonderful 4 grandchildren takes priority over it all. She is happy to share this blog and hopes to encourage others to travel.

5 thoughts on “Hamar People – Cattle Jumping – Jan 14th

  1. You are our own National Geographic photographer and journalist. A rare experience, Nancy.


  2. What an amazing experience! You were so fortunate to be there. This must be a life changing trip–the diversity of humankind is infinite. Safe travels.


  3. wonderful pictures! You lie life well cousin!


  4. telling time by am = sun and pm = dark, different and makes total sense

    showing physical body marks proving kinship pride is easier to understand intellectually than emotionally. wow, there are so many different cultures. thank you for sharing them with us Nancy


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