The Hamer live in the highlands of South-Western Ethiopia, East of the Omo River and North of Lake Turkana, this area, that is called the Lower Omo region, has remained one of the most inaccessible and least developed parts of Eastern Africa.

The Hamer are a tribe of shepherds and farmers, where the division of labor is based on gender and age: Hamer women grow sorghum, beans, corn and pumpkins, collect water, cook and take care of the children who, in turn, begin to help the family, bringing the goats to graze at the age of eight; young Hamer work in the fields with their mothers, defend the herds of the village or steal cattle from other tribes; finally, adult men are responsible for the herds, plowing the fields and collecting honey.

The cultivation of the fields totally depends on the abundance of rains during the wet season and on the floods of the Omo River, even if, unlike the other confined populations, the Hamer, live in an area where the rains are more abundant, therefore they are less dependent on floods and silt that settles along the banks of the river; moreover, the Hamer have limited access to the banks of the Omo River, since these belong to the territory of other populations such as the Kara and the Mursi.

Most of the Hamer growers plant the fields with sorghum at the beginning of the rainy season, but the crops are not followed, they are usually left unattended and therefore the yields are low.

The land is not owned by individuals, it is free and can be used by families for cultivation and grazing, as well as the fruits and berries belong to anyone who collects them.

When the land is over-exploited and impoverished or is infested with weeds, the Hamer move in search of new pastures and new fields to cultivate; in the past the Hamer made up for poor and irregular hunting crops, but in recent years the lack of game and the establishment of protected natural areas has made this activity impractical.

Therefore livestock has assumed a central role in the life of the Hamer since it represents both the main source of livelihood and a status symbol, in fact if a man loses his livestock his reputation is ruined.

During the periods when crops are not sufficient to feed the villagers, the Hamer use milk and blood taken from the neck of cattle to feed themselves, with a technique similar to that used by the Masai.

To help one another, the related Hamer families join the herds of cattle when they are grazing, this is to better protect them from the incursions of the neighboring tribes.

A village is made up of several families; each family has its own hut and if a man marries more than one woman, each wife has her own hut where she lives with young children, while older men and boys usually sleep on mats at the center of the camp, near the cattle .

The huts of the village are arranged in a circle in the center of which is the fence where the cattle are gathered and kept overnight.

The Hamer huts are round structures that are made using flexible wooden poles that are planted in the ground, the poles are folded upwards, they are folded at the top and then tied; these domes are then covered with straw during the dry season and with canvas mats during the rainy season.

Hamer women are given the task of taking care of the maintenance of the house and, in case of more demanding jobs, such as raising a new roof, the woman will ask for help from her neighbors and then invite them to join her in a party where they consume beer or a meal of goat meat specially slaughtered for them to thank them for the work done.

Marriage is an important step in the life of the Hamer, it is the parents who give men permission to marry and the marriage requires payment of the bride's price that is paid to the woman's family, usually in goats, cattle and weapons.

Although it is paid over time, the payment requested is often so high that it is unlikely that it is not paid in full; on average the price to pay for the future wife consists of 30 goats, another 20 cattle, an AK-47 and related bullets.

The price should be paid in advance to the bride's family, that is why many men do not marry until 30 years old, while girls marry around 17 years old.

Men are sometimes given responsibility for protecting a divorced woman, a widow, or the wife of an absent husband, usually the brother.

In the past, the Hamer could only marry members of their own tribe, now this rule is no longer as strict as in the past so it is possible that mixed marriages are held between the Hamer and other tribes such as the Kara or the Banna.

hamer village ethiopia