The Hamar live in the Southern Omo Zone, or Omo Valley, near the Kenyan border. Their name is also spelled Hamer.

The southern part of the Omo Valley is known as the 'poisoned paradise': the landscape is beautiful but climatic conditions are simply too hot and dry to be conducive to good health and longevity. Not surprisingly, people over 45 years old are a rarity in these parts. This pastural semi-nomadic people numbers about 15,000.

(see photo 1)

The Hamar share traditions and rituals with surrounding peoples like the Tsamai, Aari, Banna, and Bashada. One of these traditions is the so-called 'jumping over the bull'. If a young man wants to marry the girl of his choice he will have to jump over bulls picked by the girl's family. He is required to jump over them four times: two times in each direction. He is assisted by friends (called the 'maz'); those who have successfully performed the jumping in previous years. They (try to) hold the cattle to prevent the young candidate from falling. If the jumper fails, it is considered a bad sign and he will have another chance a year later. Not seldom will the people blame the wind in case of his failure, and will they allow the aspiring groom a second chance. If the groom-to-be succeeds, he may keep the girl in exchange for cattle given to her family. For two months the betrothed couple will share blood and milk (blood from the cow's neck is mixed with her milk and drunk). A wealthy, strong man may marry up to four women.

(see photo 2)

Some other aspects are remarkable: the Hamar are seriously pre-occupied with their appearance. They have at times spectular coiffures, especially the men. Even their way of sleeping is determined by their hair-do, as they use a wooden pillow that prevents the hair from touching the ground. They have three names: a human name, a goat name, and a cow name, which emphasizes the enormous role of cattle in their lives. Worth mentioning is the initiation ceremony for young men: they have to run over the backs of thirty cows standing side by side - four times, falling not allowed.

home        back to peoples section