Rumors among the drivers spread quickly – a Bull – Jumping ceremony was taking place in the afternoon, near the dry river bed outside of the village. Matthew was all business, for no less than 25 US Dollars / 400 Birr per person, we could join, all photos included. This ceremony is so unique, only known in Hamer culture, that we swallowed hard and paid. Of course this included a guide, whose job it was to be at the very venue where Matthew took us. Basically he and Matthew were sharing the bounty. We wondered if any of this money would reach the family who was organizing and paying for this party.
As soon as we got there, we seemed to be stepping in and out of a time warp. An archaic ritual straight from the Middle Ages was filmed and photographed by top notch cameras produced in 2010. Naturally we were not the only tourist, word had gotten out fast!
Bull-jumping is a traditional initiation rite for young men of the Hama people, but it is the young female relatives who are the center of an hour long bewildering ritual. They area beaten, beaten till they bleed!
The first thing we noticed was group of young girl getting all worked up. Bells tied to their ankles they were jumping, blowing horns and shouting. Soon we watched a girl approaching a young man, a Maza, and screaming in their face, “Hit me, you coward. Hit me again. I want to be first”. The girl demanded to be beaten to show her love for the boy to be initiated that day.
The more pain they endure, the more love they show. We found that the Mazas looked rather embarrassed, when they trotted after a particular girl to the center of the clearing. And this is what happens then: The maza has to face the girl, who spreads out her arms sideways and his long, thin rod slashes around her leaving deep gushing wounds on her back. The girls would not let go a beep, but blew into a horn right after and skipped back to the other girls eagerly awaiting their turn. One girl in particular went over again and again asking to be hit. Of course we had read about this custom, but to see the deep wounds on the girls’ back was a rather disturbing sight.
After this the entire party moved to a different location where in a lengthy procedure the Mazas tried to get six or seven bulls lined up side by side. This involved a lot of pushing, shoving and pulling the animals’ tails.
In the meantime, the girls jog around the little herd, more shouting, more stomping. A few older men were coaching “the jumper” easily recognizable by his weird Afro hair-do. He looked tense. No wonder, he has to perform this act stark naked!
The bull-jumping itself took on a couples of minutes. Once the bulls were in place he jumped onto the first bull, balanced across the back of the other bulls and jumped down, altogether six times. Our guy succeeded and cheers were his rewards. Now he could marry if he wished and own cattle!
People eventually left, the locals started their trek home, probably a couple of hours and the tourists climbed back to their 4WD. Many were still muttering how shocking all this was, but at the same time checking if their photos and videos had turned out well, us including.