During my stay in the Omo Valley, South Ethiopia, I was able to witness the traditional bull jumping ceremony of the Hamer tribe (one of the many tribes in that area). The event is a rite of passage for men about to marry and is seen as a step from childhood to manhood. It lasts three days and friends and relatives from nearby villages come in order to witness this important happening.
One selected man must jump four times over a line of bulls, completely naked, ideally without falling. If this task is completed, the man joins the ranks of the “Maza”, men from the same tribe who have already completed the bull-jumping event successfully. During the ceremony, the bulls are hold in place by the Maza. If the man fails to jump over the bulls without falling, the women will whip him with wooden sticks and his whole family will feel very ashamed.
Before the actual bull jumping takes place, young female relatives provoke the Maza to whip them on their bare backs. This causes life-long scaring on the women and is obviously very painful, but the women willingly take part in this important event. The scars are a symbol of devotion to the men and are encouraged by the tribe. They are said to be proof of the woman’s sacrifice for the man and, therefore, it’s impossible for him to refuse her needs in times of emergencies. In addition to jumping bulls, the Hamer tribe requires that the man pays the bride’s family a dowry in form of cattle. One Hamer man can marry up to four Hamer women.
The bull jumping ceremony definitely is a “goose bump event” and marked one of the highlights during my Ethiopia trip…