Jumping Into Matrimony in Ethiopia


Jumping Into Matrimony in Ethiopia
Story and photos by James Michael Dorsey

A bizarre wedding ceremony in an isolated valley in northern Africa is shocking, but would our rituals and attractions evoke an equivalent response in them?

Ethiopia travel

The bridegroom stands naked, stripped except for a ceremonial sash announcing his transition from boyhood to man.

He is weak as he has not eaten for days. He has been fasting and praying alone deep in the bush.

He takes a running start and jumps onto the backs of six live bulls, all held in place by his attendants. If he falls he will be beaten within an inch of his life by the women of his tribe, but if he succeeds in traversing this living walkway, he will be married.

This uniquely different rite of passage is a Bull Jumping Wedding of the Hamer people of the Omo Valley, in Ethiopia.


When cultures evolve inside an isolated area, a byproduct is often ceremonies and rituals virtually incomprehensible to the outside world that are unexplainable in logical terms. The Omo Valley of Southern Ethiopia is such a fishbowl, and the tribes that call it home have no linguistic or stylistic linkage to any other cultures on the African continent. It is so isolated that the first road did not enter it until the mid1960's, and many convincingly offer the theory that it once held the Garden of Eden. The earliest evidence of man comes from nearby Olduvai Gorge and as the outside world begins to trickle into this human petri dish, more and more human fossils are being discovered that push back our time on earth with each discovery.

The Omo Valley first became a blip on the public radar in the 1930's when the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus brought two women from the neighboring Mursi tribe to New York to put them on display in their "freak show" with their oversized plate like lip labrets, but public curiosity died young as did the two displaced ladies. They left behind no account of their forced labor time in the land of the free. These labrets were first introduced three centuries ago when the black kings of Africa were selling their own people to white slavers. The Mursi decided that if they could make their women look ugly, the slavers would not take them. The plan failed but the labrets became an integral part of their culture and today, the larger the lip plate, the more beautiful the woman is considered to be. Unusual dress and rituals are the order of the day for the various isolated tribes in the Omo.

Female Shamen, Automatic Weapons, and Ritual Beatings

The Hamer Bull Jump ceremony lasts several days with local people being summoned from all over the valley by small brass trumpets that the young women blow from dawn to dusk, before, during, and after the ceremony itself. The girls are supervised by a female shaman, a woman identified by her tall ostrich feather, who wields immense power within the tribe.

Being a wedding, everyone wears their finest. The women coat their hair with red ochre that under the mid- day sun melts until they are a beautiful earth tone from head to foot. Their hand stitched cowhide loin cloths and layers of glorious beadwork are a hallmark of bush handiwork and fashion. For the men, painted faces, hair feathers, and a shoulder slung AK47 Kalashnikov rifle are the order of the day.

The ceremony begins in earnest when tribesmen from a clan separate from that of the groom arrive with their long switches of tree branches. The women of the groom's family will taunt them with the most disgusting insults possible, degrading not only their manhood but their families as well until the men begin to lash out at the bare backed women, scourging them into bloody pulps. If a women cries out she will be ostracized, but this never happens. In fact they return over and over for more silent suffering, saying that it is how they prove their love for their tribe. By the end of the first day, most Hamer women's backs look like flayed meat.

Continue to Page 2

Read this article online at: //www.perceptivetravel.com/issues/0316/hamer.html

Copyright (C) Perceptive Travel 2016. All rights reserved.

Also in this issue:

Books from the Author:

Vanishing Tales from Ancient Trails

Buy Vanishing Tales from Ancient Trails at your local bookstore, or get it online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK

Tears, Fear and Adventure

Buy Tears, Fear and Adventure at your local bookstore, or get it online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK

Sign Up