Bull jumping ceremony of the Hamar tribe

The Hammer are a tribal people in the southern Region of Ethiopia. Hamar, an isolated people whose traditional lifestyle has been untouched are largely pastoralists, so their culture places a high value on cattle. According to the Ethiopian Central Statistical Authority the population of Hamars is about 42,000, representing less than 0.1 percent of the population of Ethiopia.

xin_42030625102947330106115The Hamar have “rites of passage” which celebrate transitions from one age grade to the next. The most dramatic and significant ritual is Bull-Jumping ceremony (Ukuli Bula) which represent a life –Changing event for the young man (Ukuli) who passes from boyhood in to adulthood. This rite of passage must be done before a man is permitted to marry. This is a ceremony which determines whether a young Hamar man is ready to make the social jump from immature member of his society to responsibility of marriage and raising a family.

Bull Jumping Ceremony is usually held after harvest time, July to first half of September. But nowadays because of big climatic change and confused rain time, it became usual to see the bull jumping eyen up to March. The ceremony lasts the whole day, but the most spectacular part of it begins in the afternoon after four o’clock.

First the family of the boy to be initiated delivers invitations to their relatives, neighbors and friends in the form of rope made of dried grass knotted(tied) in several equal number of places. This is like a calendar for the days of the celebration of that particular Bull Jumping Ceremony. Each day the guest must unite one of the knots until the day of the ceremony arrives. The boy also carries with him a small phallic carved wood (Bokko), which he hands to girls he meets along the way; they must kiss it three times as a form of blessing and then return it to him. The ceremonies end with several days of feasting, including the typical jumping dances, accompanied by sorghum made beer and coffee which the Bull-jumper’s family provides to the guests.

EthiopiaEach young man to be initiated undergoes an individual ceremony. On the day several hundred guests gather, among them the Maza (who are still single and have recently done the bull jumping ceremony) who arrive in a long line decorated with feathers, necklaces, and bracelets and carrying long thin flexible branches which will be used as whips. They participate in a coffee drinking ceremony, which is regarded as a blessing. The main responsibility of the Maza is to help the initiate during the rituals of preparation prior to jumping, but they are also mandated to participate with him in various ways in the initiation ceremony itself. An early task, for which only the Maza are ritually qualified, involves whipping the young female relatives of the jumping boy. The young women of the Ukuli family with the exception of the mother, come to the ceremony highly decorated, their hair and bodies covered with butter dancing, singing, whistling, and blowing horn in circles, beg for whip the Mazas.

The Maza with their whips ready, observe the dance from their seats in the shade. So, one of the girls from the group positions herself in front of the seated or the Maza declaring her love for the Ukuli and also her desire to be whipped. The Maza choose their whips and check the branch has no sharp points or thorns, so as to leave a clean mark. When the Maza stands up, the girl follows him and places herself in front of him slightly jumping up and down with her right hand raised and her left hand down. The Maza strikes the girl so that the end of the whip hits her on the back. It is in this way the hamar women can demonstrate the strength of their devotion to the boy. The more abundant and extensive the bleeding of their back from the whip. The deeper the girls affection to the boy who is about to became a man. From this moment on, the girls proudly stay with scar marks on their back as proof of their courage, integrity and capacity for love.

In late afternoon, after all the dancing and coffee and sorghum beer drinking, and before the jumping takes place, they make some secrete ritual ceremony. For this ceremony the Ukuli sits on ox hide on the ground and circling him previously chosen Mazas. A type of communication is established between the young men, the Ukuli and the Maza which follow the instructions given to them by the elders. This is a ritual which protect the Ukuli from falling during the jumping.

The next job is selecting and lining the cattle for the jump. Now, the Maza walk once around the cattle gathered at the nearby and the senior most Maza leads them and they encircle the cattle four times. Then they are told to take hold of the cattle. Again the senior most Maza grabs an ox to put at the beginning of the row, and then other cattle are caught and pulled in to line. They line up about 15 cattle side by side one holding the head and another the tail of each animal and hold them closely together in a specially chosen area, mostly dry river bed near to the village of the relatives of the Ukuli. These cattle are cows and castrated oxen, which represent the women
and children of the tribe. The lined cattle are smeared with dung to make
them slippery, to make the jumping very challenging. The lined cattle are smeared with dung to make them slippery, or to make the jumping very challenging.

Following all this process, the most recently initiated Mazas greased with oil and charcoal circle the animals. The Ukuli then brought in, totally naked accompanied by two of his best friends. en they release him, he runs towards the cattle, jumps onto the back of the first small caw (handled by his close relatives) and then runs across all the remaining animals. At the far end of the line he jumps down, turns around, then leaps back up again and repeats the routine in the other direction. He makes at least four runs and finally – if everything has gone well – the Maza lead him out through the exit along with wild dancing and excitement.

The Mazas are also charged with the important job of steadying the cattle over which the Ukuli must jump. Late in the afternoon, the elders and Mazas line up about 15 cows and castrated male cattle, which represent the women and children of the tribe. They line up side by side ,one holding the head and another the tail of each animal and hold them closely together in a specially chosen area, mostly dry river bed near to the village of the relatives of the Ukuli. The lined cattle are smeared with dung to make them slippery. The most recently initiated Mazas greased with oil and charcoal
circle the animals. The ukuli then brought in, totally naked accompanied by two of his best friends. When they release him, he runs towards the cattle, jumps onto the back of the first small caw (handled by his close relatives) and then runs across all the remaining animals. At the far end of the line he jumps down, turns around, then leaps back up again and repeats the routine in the other direction. He makes at least four runs and finally – if everything has gone well – the Maza lead him out through the exit along with wild dancing and excitement. While the was jumping, the Ukuli’s mother, sisters, brothers and relatives were holding sticks horizontally above their heads .

This is carried out so that he may not fall that he may cross the backs of the cattle well.

After successful jump the Maza bless the Ukuliand the cattle by spraying on them. When the cattle have left, the mother’s brothers and sisters also bless him while he looks towards the mountains of Hamar.

After all this ceremony, as a Hamar man and a mature member of his tribe may has the freedom to make marriage. The Ukuli the young initiated man, once he jumped the bulls, he become Cherkari( a social stage that he stays only for eight days). After eight days he transfer to the stage of Maza, and stay at this status until he marries and become Danza, the name for married Hamar men.

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