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Hamer Tribe


Hamer Tribe

(Hammer People or Hamar Tribe)

The Hamer tribe (sometimes called the Hammer People or Hamar tribe) live in the Hamer Bena Woreda District of the Omo River Valley in southwestern Ethiopia. The Hamer are primarily pastoralists, tending cattle, around which their society bases their existence. In addition, the Hamer people are famous for their "bull jumping ceremony" in which young men are required to jump over a line of bulls in order to be accepted as adult members of Hamer society. Officially the Hamer tribe is Muslim. However, in practice they are animists, believing that plants, animals, and even inanimate objects have spirits that can supernatural powers over human beings. Many of the more traditional African tribes practice animism similar to the Hamer tribe. The population of the Hamar tribe is approximately 43,000 people. However, this is a relatively small percentage of the total population of Ethiopia which numbers over 54 million individuals. Consequently, the political power of the Hamer tribe is extremely limited and very few Hamar can read and write. In fact, only a hand-full of Hamer tribesmen have ever completed secondary education. The language of the Hamer people is Hamer-Banna which is in the Afro-Asiatic language family. Hamer-Banna is an Omotic language and is primarly spoken in the Omo River Valley of Ethiopia by the Hamer tribe. The Hamer-Banna language has also been called Amer, Amar, Ammar, Amarcocche, Bana, Banna, Hamer, Hammer, and Hammercoche. As mentioned, one of the important Hamar tribe rituals is the jumping of the bulls ceremony. During this rite of passage, Hamer men leap over the bulls while naked. However the risk is minimal as the bulls are lined up and kept in place by other men. Once completing the ceremony, he becomes a member of the "Maza" or male elders of Hamer society. One interesting part of the ceremony is the whipping of the female relatives of the individual undergoing the bull-jumping test. The Hamer women are whipped on their bare backs, resulting in open wounds and later scars. This African tribe tradition tends to reinforce family ties as the sister or female relative of the man who participated in the man's bull-jumping ceremony will be cared for in times of need by that individual. Therefore, the women are willing participants and are even eager to participate in the ceremony. The Hamer bull jumping ceremony also includes several days of drinking sorghum beer and feasting during which traditional jumping dances are performed. 


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Photograph "jeunes filles hamer" by Christian Caron and is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons License - BY-ND
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