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Ethiopia — Bull Jumping Ceremony

Bull Jumping Ceremony

In Ethiopia, I traveled south into the Omo Valley where I found a region of high heat, searing sunlight and ample dust. The area is a cultural gem, as some of the world’s most fascinating and least disturbed tribal cultures live in this inhospitable climate. In all, there are over 50 different tribal groups in Southern Ethiopia.

One of the most fascinating and powerful tribes in the region are the Hamar people. It is the Hamar who practice one of Ethiopia’s most famous tribal rituals — the Bull Jumping Ceremony.

The bull jumping ceremony is a coming-of-age ritual for a young man in which he attempts to run across the backs of bulls held in place by supporting tribesmen. The task is a difficult one due to the constant movement of the bulls and the stakes are high. If he succeeds, he becomes an adult and garners all of the privileges and responsibilities that come with it. If he fails, he could remain wife-less and live a life of poverty. The bull jumping ceremony is a high stakes game.

Hamar women are equally strong and endure one of the strangest aspects of the bull jumping ceremony. In advance of the jumping, female relatives of the male initiate are ritually whipped by male relatives.  I was told that one reason for the custom is that the act deepens the bond between the two of them and he is now bound to protect her for the duration of their lives. The slapping sound of the flexible wooden whip hitting skin is tough to hear. It is equally difficult to watch as her flesh splits open and she starts to bleed. Her blood dripping into the dry river bed is symbolic of new life taking hold in a hostile environment. Everything about this region is intense — the climate is searingly hot and dusty, some tribes are hostile with one another, I didn’t see anything that resembled a medical clinic anywhere in the Omo Valley (although they might exist) and most adult men are carrying guns. It’s also amazing to watch the women taunt the men to whip them, oftentimes getting right in their faces yelling and blowing a horn. When I look at the photos, it makes me wonder if drugs are involved because they can have a pretty crazed look in their eyes. But that’s just a guess; I’ve never heard about any substances being used in the Bull Jumping Ceremony.

It is an unnerving yet fascinating event to watch. The entire tribe shows up for the occasion, generating a great deal of powerful energy.

I hope that you find this series interesting. Drop me a comment below if you have any questions.

Bye for now.

Gordon Ross