Taste the Blood of Hamer Tribe!
Sanchara - Ethiopian Tour
Omo Valley begins 450 km South from Addis Ababa, the Capital of Ethiopia. 50 kms away from Addis ababa, the environment changes fully. Disappearing little by little the tall concrete buildings in the middle of the cities and houses in the vicinity there appear European traditional houses mostly. Our Jeep drove forward true jungle. Yahi drove my Jeep. He has come to Omo Valley several times before. My assistant Iyobi also travelled on several occasions to Omo Valley.
Pole of Cold
Our aim of the journey is to meet the Hamer tribesmen who live In Omo valley in the thick jungle. This is a difficult task. We had to get 4 X 4 Jeep, a tent, a mattress, a gas cooker and diesel for it. We left Addis Ababa early morning and it took 8 hours to go 450 km. At the first night we had to spend at Arbaminch town. It is a fairly developed town. There are several hotels, shops and fuel stations for tourists.
Omo Valley of Southern Ethiopia lies ahead. That is the thick jungle. We got water and fuel for several days from this town. Following day we left early morning from Arbaminch hoping to reach as far as possible before sun goes hotter. But even at 7:00 a.m. The sun is too hot.
Ethiopians introduce Omo Valley as a difficult Paradise. During the rain it shines green, but wither all leaves and trees in the dry season. An unbearable temperature prevails. The temperature is 35- 38 centigrade. This is the dry season. The road is known only to samba and Iyobi. It seems that they also know the path instinctively. Most ethiopians do not use GPS in distant tour. They say these paths are not marked in GPS. Electricity, hospitals and pure water cannot be found there.
Whole of the Ethiopia has Run dry for want of rain. Iyobi says to be safe from malaria as mosquitoes are plenty. So before I set off I got all the necessary things which are needed for the journey. I had taken vaccination lastly before touring Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda which is a must before entering African countries.
It was felt arriving strange world when my Jeep went among trees and stones in the forest. This is the road for 4 x 4 Jeep itself. Our next station was Turmi town. But to reach there we should drive another 110 kms in the jungle.
Turmi is the base town of Hamer tribes. Hidden in the thick forest in Omo valley there live thousand tribes people in the small village.
In this villages, tribesmen do not live more than 50 years of age. It is because of the difficulties and rough climatic conditions and minimum facilities under which they have to live. But the thick jungle in Omo valley has been the native place for harmer tribesmen for 100 years.
According to the census done so far 50000 hamer tribesmen live In this valley. That is 0.1% of Ethiopian population 99.9% of them are uneducated. They are illiterate. The Government schools have not been established for them. Nevertheless they have been successful enough to protect their self-esteem. They pioneer to protect the pride by following their own lifestyle traditions and virtues.
Now it has been 4 hours for the journey of finding the pride but we could not see even a trace of a man. After touring over a dry river about 10 kilometers we met the first Hamer tribesman.
Passing them along the gravel dusty road we drove with great difficulties. At about 4 p.m. we could reach a plain land 40 km near to Turmi village. Here we arrived to participate ceremony conducted by Hamer tribesmen known as cattle jump including traditional virtues.
The cattle so connected to the life of Harmer tribesmen. The tribes depend on cattle farming. Except the cattle jump the tradition of besieging cattle is also famous in the Harmer tribesmen. As well as in their Rival tribes such as Bumey and Glabe. Certainly, this is their livelihood.
The income depends on number of cattle they possess. Some young Hamer tribesmen living in the Frontier for years hunt cattle. That is to rob cattle from foes from or give them as dowry to daughters. If not for that to get fresh beef they want. Killing and opposition tribesmen in besieging cattle Hamer tribesmen receives honour. If one has not killed another tribesman, he is not suitable for marriage is an opinion in tribesmen. Now instead of a man killing an elephant or lion is possible. But killing another tribesman is easier. Because of this very reason the government has taken steps to keep various tribesmen apart from one another.
The Jeep stop near the Lonely ground in the thick forest. After about 20 minutes slowly approaching of tribes women could be seen. They are going to conduct an important tribal festival known as cattle jump.
Before showing his strength in the battle of fighting against other tribes Hamer youth should show his generation the devotion for it. And this cattle jump or Bullah , as it is known conducted to recognize the youth without doubt, the suitability for the youth age. The festival days are sometimes known earlier. According to which we reached here passing a long distance with my assistant Iyobi.
After a while some other foreigners also reached there. Among them there were several television agents. This jump has to be done four times without falling across the lined cattle. If the youth jumped correctly, then only he is accepted as a real male. The danger stands as this must be exhibited in front of 100 related tribesmen and if by mistaken inability to perform well, some youth tend to commit suicide because of the shame. Not only the tribesmen compose versus of the youth who completes the jump successfully but also, he is able to own a new wife in the future. Lastly, he is signified as Maza in the tribe. Actually, the cattle jump festival start some days before. Hamer tribes main who live in other villagers travel for days passing 20 kilometers to reach there. We saw sorghum beer, Ethiopian tribesmens beer made out of sorghum much honey, prepared for them.
Firstly they came to the scene - Hamer tribes women. They pleased the gathering by singing dancing and blowing whistles made out of metal known as Gola. Iyobi told that these services used to praise the youth who does the cattle jump.
Before the function I got the chance to talk to these youths through Iyobi. This youth is 16 years old who is qualified to cattle jump. He got this opportunity at young age as his parents are fairly rich. Rich means having large herd of cattle. Unless, he has to wait until he is 20 years old. And has to earn money, buy a cattle and should be given as dowry, they said so.
This is a sacrifice that shows real characteristics of Hamer tribesmen. The most dangerous and fatal situation of this festival is that Hamer tribes women get lashes on the naked back given by Maza ( the youth who completed cattle jump but still unmarried) getting lashes they try to wet the dried land with their blood. At this attempt and devotion done by tribes women for the sake of love, even a single women did not utter a single word with great agony bleeding from the back. Through the bleeding wounds they show their limitless love towards men. It is the indescribable how they face emotionally to this situation.
This lashing is done with sticks 5 feets long. The sticks are taken from Dongo- the tree which is endemic to the area. These sticks are also used to Kindle Fire. Fire is also well connected to the life of Harmer tribesmen. Fire can remove all the ills. This is the belief among Hamer tribes. By lashing with sticks they expect to wash away the sins of Maza. Inspite of bleeding from the back for continuous lashing some feeble tribes women ask continuously for more lashing. Even after the bleeding from big wounds this action does not stop as to show their determination to wash away all the sins from Maza. At the end we saw some old tribes women accompanied these women out of the scene.
After facing this situation Hamer tribeswomen believe that for the sake of love and devotion they offer for their husbands nothing can be denied for her even to sacrifice their life for her. The endless love of harmer tribeswomen towards their husbands is shown through bleeding.
After tragical events now it is time to start the cattle jump. Though youth has come now he has been prepared since 2 days ago for this festival according to other traditions. After the cattle jump the parents of the youth sacrifice the goat for his life. If one has died before cattle jump in the family this goat sacrificing is done for his life. At length mutton is burnt and served to the closer relations. Other parts thrown away to the Jungle for dead relations.
Later the youth is made naked and bathe with soil taken from Oma valley with the help of his partner. This is meant to make him free from sins he has done in the childhood. After all he is accompanied to the place where festival is conducted.
On this occasion hamer tribes women again asked from Maza singing loudly to wash away their sins .They are ready to be lashed.
Maza youths encircling this young man Bajo blessing is granted. Then the Maza engages the youth to mime the delivery of a baby. A belt made of skin of cattle named as Kalashi is worn by Mazas. Actually this belt is worn by Hamer tribes remain when the delivery of the first child. Baju means the belief of Hamer tribes or blessings they get. They believe whatever connected to them is connected to Baju. If Baju blessings are with them then only the water is in Omo rive, the rain is there and the cattle live without dying so they could grow sorghum as they wish.
One of the old tribesmen mention in his talk, What they mean by miming and a delivery of a child is that unmarried youth having no experience in marriage. Would get more experience and Baju blessings.
It is by the leader of Maza the last celebrations are presented just before cattle jump.
The naked youth who comes in front of the large herd of cattle selected suitable cattle.
Relations and friends of the youth set the selected cattle in a queue.
On this location the friends of the youth stand facing the east and back into the west. They believe ill power would disappear by doing so.
This readiness is to have the first jump. All the area echoes with shout of joy of tribesman of and singing and whistling of the Tribeswomen.
The youth had to jump 4 times across the cattle.
This greeting is forwarded to the youth for completion of cattle jump and join the new member to Mazaz of hamers tribesmen.
At last the youth is escorted by Hamer tribesmen to shave the head. Since then he becomes a permanent member of Maza group.
I could talk a little to this youth on his way for shaving. He Explained now he is ready to show his ability and power at anytime and regrets that how long he has to wait as single until his parents give him in marriage as some Maza friends have to. Even after cattle jump on some occasions the parents have no opportunity to marry them as they lack of enough wealth.
When the sunset we left the place after participating the tribal event. We had to to go another 40 km through thick jungle to reach Turmi town. It took 2 hours to go 40 kilometres. It was not easy to drive the Jeep alone the unclear road at night through trees and rocks in the jungle.
This Omo valley is their world as I assume where 50000 of tribesmen live. They don't have what we enjoy as internet, television electricity, sanitation. But they live with pride in their own world, as I think. They try hard to maintain their are traditional pattern and virtues.
Hamer tribes women show faith and love towards their husbands with untold pain. To our eyes they are very harsh and cruel, but they are their traditions coming down for years in their world.
The Ethiopian government has intervened into some tribes traditions. Today they have to forget even with unwillingness that killing another tribesman is no more pride to them. Hamer tribesmen are imprisoned according to the new rules and regulations of Ethiopian government. The tribesmen who kills rival and returns home is warmly welcome. These persons are known as yeermit.
The danger lies there, that according to the number of killing of rivals he has to mark similar scars a tattoo on back or chest with severe cuttings. They are known as heroism tattoos. There is a special person in the village who does so. To make tattoos fatal cutting are done. Sometimes they have to wait for months to see these wounds to dry. If some yeermit person does not get these tattoos it is a disgrace to the tribe. If the body is not enough for heroism tattoos of the man it is marked on his wife’s body. The Ethiopian government has paid attention to killing and tattooing. It is decided by the government to confiscate the cattle of the tribesmen addition to the imprisonment. At present the tattoo East tattooists for heroism also as arrested by the government.
But as the Omo valley spreads far and wide it is not easy for the Ethiopian police. So they use volunteers and paid youths for this. Keeping another step forward the government tries to make connection with old Hamer tribesmen they have started to advise to give up fatal traditions through old people. Though it is suggested to give up lashing to tribeswomen for the love they say that the scars after the lashing show The Love and Honor to their husbands. And it is a pride for them.
In the past the spear was the main weapon of Harmer tribesmen. But today AK47 has come to them. The uncertainty of politics in the neighboring countries causes them to get a gun easily in matter of several cattle. It is a great problem for the government as the people possess weapons other than state forces. The Ethiopian government is still innocent.
Not only the environmental changes. The Hamer tribesmen have to face also rules and regulations of Ethiopian government, income from the tourism and others. As facing the environmental problems for hundred years and restoring the self-pride of Hamer tribes and their traditions, my wish at this moment is to have them courage and power to face the changes through the environment in which they live.
On that day I had to stay the night with them at Tumi village. It was very difficult, but peculiar experiences for me. I could get better knowledge of lifestyle and traditions of Hamer tribesmen. I hope to reveal the secret of Hamer tribesmen in my next article.
. “Nothing else is necessary to teach your child but love for the environment” Ethiopian proverb.
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