The bull, or bulls jumping, is an important rite of passage for the Hamer, who have in common with the Kara this ceremonial, even if between the two tribes there are some differences of execution: the Kara celebrate the bull jumping only once a year and all the village boys who are old enough to participate take part; while the Hamer do a ritual for every boy.
Attending the Kara bull jump is very difficult as it not only takes place one day a year, but few people who are not members of the tribe are admitted and a very high fee is required, our guide told us they are asking for more than 2,000 €.
While watching the Hamer bull jump is relatively simpler, it is not assured anyway, because on days when you are at Turmi, you have to have the luck that some villages perform the ritual.
How to watch the Hamer bull jump
It is not possible to know in advance the day on which the ceremony will take place, so it is impossible to plan your travel itinerary to be sure of finding yourself on the right day in the right place; this ceremony is not planned well in advance and above all it is unlikely to be communicated outside the village.
How to increase the probability of being able to watch the bull jump:
• Plan to stay at Turmi for a few days in order to have more chances that at that time in some villages the jump of the bull is celebrated, there are several things to see in the area and therefore you will not be bored at all;
• Ask at the hotel or in Turmi or rely on your guide who, if he is smart and skilled, will start calling as soon as he sets foot in Turmi to find the various options available;
• Be flexible and prepared to have to travel even 50 km by car or a few kilometers on foot to reach the village or the place of the ceremony; there are many Hamer villages near Turmi, some closer and more easily reachable, while others are further away and dispersed in the savannah.
• Plan the journey between late September and January, in fact this is the period in which most of the bull jumps are celebrated.
It is necessary to pay a fee in order to participate in the bull jumping ceremony, on the other hand you can spend all the time you want with the Hamer, chat with them and take all the photos you want.
We have been very lucky because these days there are two ceremonies and therefore we can afford the luxury of choosing which to attend; obviously we choose the nearest ceremony and where we have to walk under the sun as little as possible, since there will be almost 40 degrees.
This morning we visited a Hamer village and we have already discovered many things about this population, but we are eager to attend the bull jumping ceremony.
After lunch we leave with our jeep and go to the dry river just outside Turmi, it will be 2 km in all, it was impossible to get closer than this.
They tell us that every village has a favorite place where they always celebrate this ceremony; the place is always on the bank of a river, where the first part of the ritual takes place, then you move to the other side of the river for the true jump of the real bull, even crossing the river represents the passage from adolescence to adulthood.
The Hamer bull jumping ceremony
When we get to the river we see a group of Hamer sitting in the dry river bed, some, especially the elderly men, are lying down and sleeping with their heads resting on the typical wooden head rest that they also use to not ruin their typical hairstyle reserved for men.
A little further on we see a group of women playing metal trumpets while some boys whip them on their backs, using very flexible branches.
For a moment we are struck and, without realizing it, we remain stuck there watching them, at the same time our Hamer guide tells us that those women are the relatives of the boy who will practice the bull jump and get whipped to show him that they will always be close and they will help him in every situation, even the most difficult, and at any cost.
Some women, with obvious lacerations on their backs, run in circles in the riverbed, jumping, dancing and playing their trumpets and the little bells they have on their ankles, they do this to encourage the boy who has to make the bull jump; they seem tireless and insensitive to pain.
A 13 year old girl approaches me, she is one of the few who speaks a few words of English and wants to talk to practice, so she tells me many very interesting things about the ceremony and the Hamer; she is half Hamer and half Kara but lives in her mother's Hamer village and tells me her name is Maria, even if it is a sort of nick name.
My attention is inevitably captured by the hairstyles of the Hamer women and my new friend tells me that adult and married women make braids, that look like dreads, the end result is a sort of bob that they sprinkle with ocher and water or butter , with the result that the hair looks red.
Looking around, however, I see some girls who do not have this hairstyle and she tells me that young and single women can style their hair as they want, in fact she has two braids with fuchsia extensions, she shows me other girls too, some are shaved , others already have dreads like adult women or have other hairstyles; Maria tells me that to make the extensions they use the hairs of the tail of donkeys, horses or cows.
Another hallmark of married women is the large necklaces that they wear tight around their necks.
In a corner, in the shade of a big tree, we see some boys who paint the faces to some boys and girls with chalk and ocher; my friend tells me that it is a decoration of beauty, but it is made only for the festivals to wish a good omen.
The bull jump is not only the transition to adulthood, but, from that moment on, the boy can get married; if he does not pass this test he cannot marry until he can complete the ritual.
We stay here at the river for 2 or 3 hours, in reality we do not realize the passing of time, we are too involved in everything that happens around us; we feel good, we have the feeling that they have welcomed us as part of their village and some of them enjoy telling us and showing us things.
There are very few visitors, just the two of us, a couple from the Netherlands, one from Spain and two from England; we and the Spaniards are there with the people, we chat or talk to them with gestures, we also sit on the ground in the shade and enjoy the moment; the other two pairs have a somewhat more detached approach.
My friend Maria at one point points to the branches of a tree on the other side of the river and tells me "monkey" and in fact there are several white and black colobus; they are beautiful, they are among my favorite primates.
At some point, around 5:00pm, when the sun starts to go down and it is less hot, we cross the dry river and move to the opposite shore; here we follow a path of 500 meters that leads us to a clearing surrounded by shrubs.
Almost at the same time here get some cows that are brought by some men.
The women continue to jump and play their trumpets while, shortly after, the men, who have already passed the bull jumping ritual and the friends of the one who will make the jump, start running around the cows.
At a certain point they stop and begin to choose the cows on which the boy will jump; it is the boy himself who decides the number of cows, but at least they must be 6, he also chooses how many passes to make, minimum is 4 but the more he does and the more he demonstrates his value and strength but it will be more difficult to complete the job.
The boys align the cows next to one another and hold them in place, so that the boy reduces the risk of falling, because if he falls he will have to repeat the ritual in a year.
At a certain point the boy who has to make the jump arrives, the jumper; he is completely naked and has an X on his back that was drawn with cow dung, he also has a straw cross on his back and chest.
He concentrates and starts, it is not easy to jump barefoot on the back of the cows without helping oneself with the arms and it is not easy even to jump on the ground barefoot once past all the cows; in all he completes 6 passages and, even if in a passage he has been slightly uncertain, with the help of the friends he succeeds in overcoming the ritual.
For the duration of the jump the women continued to play their trumpets while we remained silent, focused on the ceremony, with even a little anxiety for the jumper.
But the boy has successfully passed the test and now he can marry his promise who, as tradition has it, belongs to another village.
It was a wonderful and engaging experience, very true and felt by all the participants, it really conquered us.
We obviously took lots of photographs, plus we also have the ones that Maria took with one of our reflexes and two other children with our iPhones; they had a lot of fun and I have to say that Maria also has a good eye.
After the ceremony we find Jimmy, our guide, who came to pick us up with our car, we go onboard and Maria comes with us, she asked us for a ride to make less road on foot to return to the village; without even noticing it, 2 or 3 children stand up on the rear bumper and scrounge us and laugh, they are really funny and above all it is nice to find out how a small thing like a "stolen" passage can make them so happy.
Shortly after we arrive at our hotel, we say goodbye to our little friends, Maria hugs me and gives me her rubber bracelet and this melts my heart, tomorrow we will buy her the English grammar book she wants so much.
We enjoyed the day very much today and got to know the Hamer, a very hospitable and interesting population.