Hamer people Cow Jumping

Cow jumping is a rite of passage for men coming of age must be done before a man is permitted to marry. The man-to-be must "jump the cattle" four times to be successful and only castrated male cattle and cows may be used to jump over.


Hamer young guy jumping over the bullThis test is performed while naked (except for a few cords bound across the chest) as a symbol of the childhood he is about to leave behind him.On completion of this test, the young man joins the ranks of the maza - other men who have recently passed the same test and who spend the next few months of their lives supervising these events in villages throughout the Hamar territory. Unlike the Minoan bull-leaping, the cattle is held still by maza, so the physical risk is limited.

The maza are also responsible for a ritual which precedes the main cattle jump. The village's women (and in particular, the would-be jumper's sisters) purposefully provoke the maza into lashing their bare backs with sticks which inflict raw, open wounds and scar them for life. However, these wounds are seen as the mark of a true Hamar woman, and all the village's women where eager to participate. Because the sister or relative was whipped at the man's ceremony and endured the pain for him she can later in life look to him for help if she falls on hard times because she has the scars from the whipping she received for him to prove his debt to her.

Women commonly end up as the heads of families because they marry men who are much older than themselves while they are young. When her husband dies she is left in control of the family's affairs and livestock. She is also in control of his younger brothers and their livestock if their parents are dead. Widows may not re-marry. One Hamar woman who had long since left the village and begun life in a larger town spoke out against the whipping practice as unfit for an educated person.
The ceremonies end with several days of feasting, including the typical jumping dances, accompanied by as much sorghum beer as the cow-jumper's family can provide to the visitor.

The Hamar people are semi nomadic pastoralists migrating every few months to find pastures for their goats and cattle. Huts are round and conical made from a dome frame of branches covered with grasses, mats and hides.  About 20 huts around a meeting place where dancing and feasting occurs, and a cattle and goat pen make a village. The Hamar often trade with their neighbours for sorghum and corn as they do not grow it themselves. Goats and Cattle offer milk and meat. Sorghum is made into a pancake or porridge and eaten with a stew. Men typically wear a checkered skirt of cloth while women wear a cow skin skirt.