BULL JUMPING: A Rite of Passage into Adulthood in Ethiopia

One of the most iconic expressions of the Omo Valley's deep-rooted traditions, values, and culture is the bull jumping. It is a ceremony performed by the Hamer tribe as a rite of passage for young men. The Hamer people are a tribal community living in the Lower Omo Valley of Ethiopia.

On the day of the ceremony, there is plenty of celebrating. Women dance in traditional dress, playing horns with their legs draped in bells and drinking home-brewed sorghum beer. Attendance at the ceremony is dependent on the social status of the family.

Before the ceremony, the female relatives (with the exception of little girls) of the young man go to meet the 'Maza', men who have just passed the bull-jumping ceremony and who temporarily live apart from the rest of the tribe.
Hamer men lining up the bulls for the ceremony
They demand to be whipped by these men as a way of showing their dedication and loyalty towards their male relatives. The idea here is to create a strong bond - an obligation - between them.

As they have undergone such pain so stoically on his behalf, he should feel a debt to protect them going into the future. This also signals their attractiveness as a future wife, and it becomes a kind of competition, with women refusing to back down and vowing to each endure the most pain.

Before the ceremony, the young man is rubbed with sand as a purification ritual, is smeared with dung to deliver him strength, and has his head partly shaved and his face painted. He also has strips of tree bark wrapped around his body, as a religious appeal for protection.

Seven to ten castrated bulls are lined up in a row by the men of the tribe and smeared with dung in order to make them slippery. In the midst of an electric atmosphere and a cacophony of bells and horns, the man must leap up onto, and run over, the several-deep row of cattle 4 times without falling. If he falls, he fails the ceremony and must try again in a year’s time.
Man in the bull jumping action
Man being cheered on by female Hamer tribe members
Once a man passes the test, he is blessed and has an animal skin draped over him, to the sounds of rapturous cheering and celebration by the surrounding crowd. He will then go to join the 'Maza', who will shave his head completely. Later, there is a big dance celebration which goes on until the early hours: and celebrations continue for several days following the ceremony.

Credit: Brilliant Ethiopia