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Bull Jumping of the Hamer

February 20, 2017


Rites of Passage to Manhood happens in many ways throughout the world. To the Hamer people a boys ability to jump onto then run across the backs of a line of bulls is the climax of an afternoon of celebration.
But it is not for the squeamish and many tourists met refused to attend. There is no posing here. This is for real and the visitor is fortunate to be in the area when one occurs. Gino found out the day before that one was to take place twenty or so kilometres away. The road was rough and washed out in places and the final kms was up a dry river bend.
The ceremony is spread over three to four hours starting by twenty or thirty women of the tribe running in unison around a section of the river. Each woman had metal bells tied to her legs just below the knees and many were blowing these metal horns. The rhythm of the bells and horns were incessant, the noise ear piercing. This continued for a good thirty minutes during which there could be a sudden rush in one direction to grab these thin sticks that someone had walked up with.
Then it became serious. The idea is the women from the tribe of the man doing the bull jump shows their enthusiasm for him and egging him on by being whipped by other young men who have completed the rite of passage but at this stage haven’t found a wife. In many cases the men are reluctant to whip the women but it is their duty, as far as the women are concerned they do not flinch or show any signs of distress. The crack of the whip on bare flesh is terrifying but the women chase the man to get more. The breasts are covered by a t shirt or old bra for some protection as the strikes are usually on the front or shoulder with the thin end of the whip curling over the shoulder and striking the back. There was even a pregnant woman wanting to be whipped. After an hour or so of this the women’s backs are covered in welts many with blood flowing freely. At no time do they show pain or distress.
Then the successful bull jumpers have their faces painted in red ochre and white spots. It is an intense process but does not stop the whipping continues around the painters.
From the river bed the action moves to the village 200 metres up the river bank. Coffee and sorghum beer is served for the invited guests under shade but the noise from the rhythmic jogging and horn blowing continues as does the odd whipping. The noise is piercing to the ears.
All this time the actual bloke who will be doing the bull jump is very quiet, standing around with his best man and being really out of the action. That starts for him when a group of elders surround him as he sits legs intertwined with another his own age. I am not sure what goes on there.
Then it is up to where the actual bull jump occurs. By this time the sun is not far off the horizon. The jumper gets four goes at running over the backs of the bulls, he has to be successful on at least two occasions to pass into man hood. The jumper is naked as the bulls are lead in. He walks amongst them seemingly talking to them to calm them down. They are placed side by side and can be any number from 7 upwards. He chose 7 but another one sneaked in at the last minute. The actual jump is over in a couple of seconds. He leaps onto the first one, runs then jumps off. Immediately he turns around and repeats it from the other direction. Another success. The third time he’s up and off, made it! The fourth one is a formality, up along and off. The crowd cheer. He is still strong and wants to do more but his minder grabs him and wrestles with him to stop him.
Then the choir of women, by now the ochre and butter hair grooming is running down their backs, join in on a quiet chant of thanks.
The sun has set. The visitors walk back to their cars in the river bed while the invited guests head to the village where cows are slaughtered and celebrations carry on well into the night.

One Comment
  1. Ross Smith permalink

    Un bloody believable what you pair get to witness.

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