The outmoded culture of the Hamar tribe and the infamous “coming-of-age” ritual.

Have you ever wondered why some outmoded cultures have still not been abolished regardless of how loud they perpetuate inequality and oppression? Well, cultural practices play an important role in our lives. They help us express our identity, connect with our heritage, and pass on our traditions. They can also be a source of strength and community during times of change or crisis.

These practices can range from simple things like the way we greet each other, to more complicated things like the way we handle conflict. Some cultural practices are essential to our survival and well-being, while others can be harmful or even deadly. This article describes the “coming-of-age” ritual, a pain-inflicting outmoded culture of the Hamar tribe.

Related media: A Boy’s Coming Of Age, The Hamar Of Ethiopia, Part 1ㅣExploring The Origin Of Humanity

Meet The Hamar People

The Hamar tribe is a small nomadic, pastoral, and polygamous traditional African tribe located in the Omo Valley of Ethiopia who have a sui generis, but a weird and brutal coming-of-age ritual for younglings.

This includes two rituals: the jump over bull ritual for men (Ukuli Bula) and the flogging ritual for women. The history behind these two rituals is fascinating, and it provides insight into the culture and traditions of this odd African tribe.

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The Outmoded Cultural Practices

Every spring, the men of the tribe perform a traditional bull-jumping ceremony which is meant to demonstrate strength and courage among men. The ritual involves (you guessed it) jumping over a bull while it is being held down by four men.

The young boys who are about to undergo the ceremony must first jump over 12 bulls four times each without being touched by them. Those men who are successful enough to complete the jump are considered brave, respected by the tribe, and eligible for marriage. They are known as Maza.

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Jumping Over The Bull

Here’s the jump-over bull ritual:

#1. The preparation: of the bull-jumping ceremony usually takes place in the dry season, between June and September. Before the ceremony, the men of the tribe spend months preparing for it. They must undergo a period of fasting and ritual cleansing to purify their bodies and minds. During this time, they live in isolation in the bush, where they learn the necessary skills for the ceremony.

#2. The ceremony begins: with the arrival of the bulls, which are chosen for their strength and size. The bulls are adorned with colorful beads and feathers, and they are paraded through the village to the beat of drums and the sound of horns. The young men who will participate in the ceremony paint their bodies with white clay, and they wear bracelets and anklets made of animal skins.

#3. The jumping begins: with a group of men running around the bulls, taunting and teasing them to provoke them into a frenzy. The men then take turns jumping over the backs of the bulls. Each man must jump over four bulls, without falling off or being trampled by the animals. If a man is successful in jumping over the bulls, he’s considered a man and can take a wife. If he fails, he must wait for another year to try again.

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#4. The final jump: is the most important and dangerous part of the ceremony. The last bull is the largest and most powerful, and the man must jump over it twice, without falling off. If he succeeds, he’s carried on the shoulders of the other men, who sing and dance in celebration. He’s now considered a man, and he can take a wife and start a family.

#5. The feast: is held in honor of the newly initiated men after the ceremony. The men who participated in the ceremony are fed a special meal of bull meat, which is considered a delicacy. The young women of the tribe perform a traditional dance, called evangadi, to honor the new men. The ceremony requires months of preparation, physical endurance, and bravery and is a symbol of strength, courage, and masculinity, which represents the transition from boyhood to manhood.

While this is no easy feat and often results in serious injury, Hamar women also have a fair share of this pain-inflicting ritual.

Flogging Thy Women

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The flogging ritual is less about “coming of age” and more about a show of strength for Hamar women. As part of the ritual, women are whipped with sticks by their male relatives while they sing and dance.

The number of scars on the back also shows the new Maza who loves him best. They allow themselves to be whipped with the hopes that their Maza doesn’t forget them and come through for them in times of crisis.

The number of lashes they receive depends on their status within the tribe; married women receive more than unmarried women, for instance. It is also a demonstration of loyalty, love, and support to the men they love. They believe that the scars which the excessive whipping leaves on them are scars of love that are worth flaunting.

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Thou Art Sexist

Here’s the flogging ritual:

#1. The preparation: before the ceremony, the young women spend several weeks preparing for the event. They decorate their bodies with intricate patterns using a mixture of water and red ochre, a type of clay. They also wear beaded jewelry and skirts made of goat skin.

#2. The gathering: on the day of the ceremony, the women gather in a clearing where the event will take place. The men of the tribe form a circle around them and watch as the ceremony unfolds.

#3. The jumping: over the bulls is the highlight of the ceremony. A row of bulls is lined up, and the women must run and leap over the backs of the bulls in a row without falling. This is a test of courage, strength, and endurance. If a woman falls, she must start again from the beginning until she completes the task successfully.

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#4. The whipping: is complete after the jump, the male relatives of the women whip them as a symbol of their love and support. The women line up, and the men take turns striking them with a long, flexible stick called a mangua. The women endure the whipping without flinching or showing pain, as this is seen as a sign of strength and resilience.

#5. The celebration: is climaxed once the whipping is over. The women are considered adults and are free to marry. A celebration follows, with feasting, dancing, and singing.

While it may sound painful (and it definitely is), the flogging ritual is actually seen as a badge of honor among the Hamar women, and a way to achieve power and respect within the tribe.

Let us know what you think about these cultural practices.

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Written by: Dorothy Efua DadzieMon, Feb 06, 2023.


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