Hamer also well known as the hamar or hammer are one of the most known tribes inSouthwestern Ethiopia.  They inhabit the territory east of the Omo River and have villages in Turmi and Dimeka. They are a semi-nomadic, pastoral people, numbering about 42 000.
Beautiful Hamer woman

 Honey collection is their major activity and their cattle is the meaning of their life. They will stay for a few months wherever there is enough grass for grazing, putting up their round huts. When the grass is finished, they will move on to new pasture grounds. This is the way they have been living for generations.Once they hunted, but the wild pigs and small antelope have almost disappeared from the lands in which they live; and until 20 years ago, all ploughing was done by hand with digging sticks.
The land isn’t owned by individuals; it’s free for cultivation and grazing, just as fruit and berries are free for whoever collects them. The Hamar move on when the land is exhausted or overwhelmed by weeds.

                                  Hamer men

Often families will pool their livestock and labour to herd their cattle together. In the dry season, whole families go to live in grazing camps with their herds, where they survive on milk and blood from the cattle. Just as for the other tribes in the valley, cattle and goats are at the heart of Hamar life. They provide the cornerstone of a household's livelihood; it’s only with cattle and goats to pay as ‘bride wealth’ that a man can marry. A lot of their culture has now become well-known to the outside world. It's a real privilege to get to know them.
                                        Portrait of Hamer tribe women

There is a division of labour in terms of sex and age. The women and girls grow crops (the staple is sorghum, alongside beans, maize and pumpkins). They’re also responsible for collecting water, doing the cooking and looking after the children - who start helping the family by herding the goats from around the age of eight. The young men of the village work the crops, defend the herds or go off raiding for livestock from other tribes, while adult men herd the cattle, plough with oxen and raise beehives in acacia trees.
Sometimes, for a task like raising a new roof or getting the harvest in, a woman will invite her neighbours to join her in a work party in return for beer or a meal of goat, specially slaughtered to feed them.
Relations with neighbouring tribes vary. Cattle raids and counter-raids are a constant danger. The Hamar only marry members of their own tribe, but they have nothing against borrowing – songs, hairstyles, even names – from other tribes in the valley like the Nyangatom and the Dassanech
                  Hamer women on their way to bull jumping initiation ceremony

 Hamar parents have a lot of control over their sons, who herd the cattle and goats for the family. It’s the parents who give permission for the men to marry, and many don’t get married until their mid-thirties. Girls, on the other hand, tend to marry at about 17.
Marriage requires ‘bride wealth’, a payment made to the woman’s family and generally made up of goats, cattle and guns. Although it’s paid over time like instalments of a bank loan, it’s so high (30 goats and 20 head of cattle) that it can't usually be paid back in a lifetime.
Hamer Tribemen. Omo Valley. Southern Ethiopia

One effect is that whenever a family has a lot of livestock, the wife’s and mother’s brothers will claim outstanding bride wealth debts. It means that Hamar men can't stay wealthy and grow wealthier as their livestock is claimed by others. If a man can afford the bride wealth, he can have three or four wives. Women only marry one man.
              portrait of the Hamer tribe boy with necklaces ethnic

Because men tend to be older than their wives, they often die first. Lots of Hamar households are headed by women who have survived their husbands – one study found an amazing 27 out of 39 married women were widows. A widow also has power over her husband’s younger brothers (and their livestock) if their parents are already dead.
Brothers and sisters are important to each other in other ways. The most dramatic example is the ritual whipping before a brother’s cattle-leaping ceremony.
                                                                         Hamer Couple

The Hamar have very unique rituals such as a bull-leaping ceremony, that a young men has to succeed in order to get married. A Hamar man comes of age by leaping over a line of cattle as an initiation rite of passage. It’s the ceremony which qualifies him to marry, own cattle and have children. The timing of the ceremony is up to the man’s parents and happens after harvest. As an invitation, the guests receive a strip of bark with a number of knots – one to cut off for each day that passes in the run up to the ceremony. Cows are lined up in a row. The initiate, naked, has to leap on the back of the first cow, then from one bull to another, until he finally reaches the end of the row. He must not fall of the row and must repeat successfully the test four times to have the right to become a husband. While the boys walk on cows, Hamar women accompany him: they jump and sing. They have several days of feasting and drinking sorghum beer in prospect.

     Hamer Tribe. Omo Valley. Southern Ethiopia

(As the sun sets...
Cow jumping is a rite of passage for men coming of age and must be done before a man is permitted to marry. The man-to-be must jump the cattle four times to be successful (only castrated male cattle and cows may be used to jump over). This test is performed while naked)

On the afternoon of the leap, the man’s female relatives demand to be whipped as part of the ceremony. The girls go out to meet the Maza, the ones who will whip them – a group of men who have already leapt across the cattle, and live apart from the rest of the tribe, moving from ceremony to ceremony. The whipping appears to be consensual; the girls gather round and beg to be whipped on their backs. They don’t show the pain they must feel and they say they’re proud of the scars. They would look down on a woman who refuses to join in, but young girls are discouraged from getting whipped.

                                           Hamer women dancing 

                 Fighting to be the first to be whipped - Hamer tribe Ethiopia

             woman being whipped as a honor for his brother

One effect of this ritual whipping is to create a strong debt between the young man and his sisters. If they face hard times in the future, he’ll remember them because of the pain they went through at his initiation. Her scars are a mark of how she suffered for her brother.
                                  Whipped Hamar woman

As for the young man leaping over the cattle, before the ceremony his head is partially shaved, he is rubbed with sand to wash away his sins, and smeared with dung to give him strength. Finally, strips of tree bark are strapped round his body in a cross, as a form of spiritual protection.
                      Hamer bull jumping ceremony Omo Ethiopia

            Horn is blown for the bull jumping initiation to start

The jumper - Hamar tribe Ethiopia
(By the haircut you can recognize this Hamer man: he's going to jump totally naked over 10 bulls in front of all the village.
If he succeeds , he will be able to marry a girl he does not know! if he fails, it will be a shame for his family. He has no choice.)

         Pressure before the bull jumping - Hamer tribe Ethiopia

In few seconds this man who is totally naked, will have to jump (walk in fact) over 10 cows. if he succeeds, he'll be able to marry a girl (that he does not know) few weeks later.
If he fails jumping, it will a shame for him and his whole family.

                All get set for the about to be initiated jumper to start his bull jumping/leaping
                      Jumper starts

                       Cow jumper in action for his initiation crermony

                              The cow jumper comin to the end of his initiation jumping of cows

Meanwhile, the Maza and elders line up about 15 cows and castrated male cattle, which represent the women and children of the tribe. The cattle in turn are smeared with dung to make them slippery. To come of age, the man must leap across the line four times. If he falls it is a shame, but he can try again. If he is blind or lame he will be helped across the cattle by others. Only when he has been through this initiation rite can he marry the wife chosen for him by his parents, and start to build up his own herd. Once his marriage has been agreed upon he and his family are indebted to his wife's family for marriage payments amounting to 30 goats and 20 cattle.

At the end of the leap, he is blessed and sent off with the Maza who shave his head and make him one of their number. His kinsmen and neighbours decamp for a huge dance. It’s also a chance for large-scale flirting. The girls get to choose who they want to dance with and indicate their chosen partner by kicking him on the leg.
Hamer girl not yet married - Ethiopia
This Hamar tribe girl is not yet married as she does not wear the married women haistyle made of little dreadlocks. She is not even promised, as she does not wear a dik dik necklace that shows her family has found a husband for her. even if she does not who he is!
It doesn’t stop there. Wife beating is an accepted part of life rather than a taboo, and the convention is that a man will not generally tell his wife why she is being whipped. On the other hand, if a beating is severe then family or neighbours will step in; and after a couple have had two or three children, beating stops.
              hamer tribe mother and son wearing colored beads and tribal rings, bracelets, iron and copper

There are at least 27 words for the subtle variations of colours and textures of a cattle ! And each man has three names: a human, a goat and a cow name. The Hamar are very preoccupied with their beauty. They have a spectacular hair-styles. 
Men use a wooden head rest which prevents the hair from touching the ground. You can see them walking with it everywhere ! It is used as head rest to protect the clay wig that some do on the top of the head, but it is also useful as a seat ! Even if there is a chair close to them, they prefer to use the head rest !
                                    Beautiful Hamer girl with her unique hairstyle

Women know many ways to do their hair. The most famous hair style is when their hair is in short tufts rolled in ochre and fat or in long twisted strands. These coppery coloured strands are called "goscha", it's a sign of health and welfare. 
They also wear bead necklaces, iron bracelets around their arms, and decorate their breast with lots of cowry shells, like a natural bra. 
Hamer tribe woman - Ethiopia
The hairstyle she wears indicates that she is no more a teen, but soon to be married.
Around married women's necks, you can see "esente": torques made of iron wrapped in leather. These are engagement presents; they are worn for life and indicate their husband's wealth. One of the necklaces catch more especially the attention: it is called the "bignere". It's also an iron and leather ring, which has a phallic-shape end. But this jewelry can only be worn by a man's first wife.

                      Hamar unmarried woman 

I remember a woman I have met. On her neck, there were three necklaces. According to what I just explained about the bignere, the biggest one at the top means she was "First Wife". This is important, as her status is the higher one in Hamer society. But as she has two more simple necklaces around her neck: that means her husband took two more wives... The Hamar women who are not first wife have a really hard life and they are more slaves than wives... During my trip, I could see some of these women, working like slaves for the men: their skin were covered with clay, butter and animal fat... So they were a little scary ! Another thing to know about these women: the more scars one has on her back, the higher is her status. 
               Uta woman in Hamer tribe, Ethiopia by Eric Lafforgue

                                  Inside Hamar hut

The young unmarried girls, for their part, wear a kind of oval shape plate, in metal. It is used like a sunshield, but it tends to be rare in the tribe. Some of them have fund their future husband, but have to wait in their house until the so-called pretender can provide all the money for the ceremony: he has to pay for all the cows the bride-to-be's family asks for. These girls are called "Uta" and have to wait three months, entirely covered with red clay... And no right to take baths or showers ! They cannot go out of the house, let alone the village.That's why it is very rare to see or take a photo of a Uta
                    Hamar woman with sun protection on the head - Omo Ethiopia

A cruel tradition still has currency for some Hamar: unmarried women can have babies to test their fertility, but some of them are just abandoned in the bush. This tradition tends to disappear but NGO still save abandoned new borns. Abandonment are all the more frequent than some Hamar believe that a child born out of formal marriages has "mingi", as to say something abnormal and unclean. For them, it is the expression of the devil, which may cause disasters such as epidemics or drought in the village. So, illegitimate children are abandoned. This kind of beliefs can also be observed in other Ethiopan tribes: many parents prefer to sacrifice their own child rather than risk being affected by the evil eye.
                  Ethiopia Hamer Tribe ©Marco Paoluzzo 

The Hamar appear to be confident in the survival of their traditions. Despite increasing contact with town-dwellers, they continue to marry only from within the tribe and scorn those who refuse to take part in tribal ceremonies. Of more concern to them are the tourists who refuse to pay for the privilege of taking photographs

                                            Hamer girl

                Hamar woman


Through appropriate massages given during childhood and elaborate hairstyles, the Hamer give their heads an elongated shape.
Enphasising his "primitive " look, the Hamer man gives the impression of a strong and fearsome warrior.
The man who wears a clay head-ring has killed an enemy or a dangerous animal.
                                         Hamer warrior hairstyle

                   Hamar man with unique hairstyle

                                Hamer tribe couple

   Traditional Hamar hairstyle

                              Beautiful Hamer gir with her braid 

                                                                     Hamar man

                          Hamar girl with her clay designed hairstyle

                       Hamer Boy

Hamar boy`s hairstyel

                             Hamer boy`s hairstyle

       Hamer Boy with a unique hairstyle milking a cow

                  Hamer woman with her braid style

            Hamer man with awesome hairstyle

A Hamar woman at Turmi Market.The Hamar are semi-nomadic pastoralists of Southwest Ethiopia whose women wear striking traditional dress Skins are widely used for clothing and heavy metal necklaces,bracelets and anklets form part of their adornments. Cowries are also popular to embellish a woman's appearance. Stock Photo - Rights-Managed, Artist: AWL Images, Code: 862-03711118
                   Hamer girl with her beautiful braid hairstyle

A Hamar man with an unusual hairstyle attends a Jumping of the Bull ceremony.The semi nomadic Hamar of Southwest Ethiopia embrace an age grade system that includes several rites of passage for young men.The most elaborate of them and the most important is the Jumping of the Bull ceremony. Stock Photo - Rights-Managed, Artist: AWL Images, Code: 862-03820524
    Hamer man with a special hairstyle

                                                            Uta girl from Hamer

Hamer Tribe - Omo Valley, Southern

                                                       Hamer girl

                                                               hamar girl

                                  Hamer woman

                             Two hamar girls

Hamar Jumper At Bull Jumping Ceremony, Turmi, Omo Valley, Ethiopia by Eric Lafforgue

 dance evangadi hamer tribe-lower omo valley-ethiopia

Hamer People | ETHIOPIA

Hamer People | ETHIOPIA

                               Hamar girl

Source: BBC


  1. wow! I love your pics! I was living with karamajong people in north uganda some months and that images makes my mind to remember a lot of feelings. Thanks.


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