The Bull Jumping of the Hamar: Where Women Are Whipped and Boys Become Men

The Hamar is an Ethiopian tribe consisting majorly of pastoralists who not only tend their cattle but also have a unique initiation ritual.

The Hamar occupies south-western Ethiopia in a fertile area known as Omo River. (Credit: nomadic-by-nature)

African tribes have diverse rituals of initiating boys into manhood. For the Hamar, it is bull jumping. To prove their manhood, young boys must run, jump and land on the back of a bull then attempt to run across the backs of several bulls.

The Bull Jumping Process


First, the initiate is shaved to the middle of his head by the Maza. The Maza is a group of men that have undergone the bull-jumping ritual. The boy is then rubbed with sand to wash away his sins and smeared with dung for strength.

Strips from tree barks are strapped around his chest for spiritual protection. The young boy must leap over 15 castrated bulls that have been rubbed in dung to make their backs slippery. The previously hard task now becomes harder.


This three-day-long initiation is important to both the initiate and his family. If he fails, he brings shame upon himself and his family and would have to wait until the following year for another attempt. On the other hand, if he succeeds, he is set to marry a girl his family chooses for him, have children and cattle.

The initiate must jump over the backs of the bulls four times without fail, and usually in the nude. This day is considered the most important day in the life of a man.

Whipping of the Women


While this is going on, the female relatives of the boy, including his mother and sisters show their ‘support’. They willingly ask (actually, they beg) the Mazas to flog them until their backs are bloodied.

Scars of whipping on the back of Hamar women

This show by the women is not only a display of courage but also proof of how loved the boy is by the village. The more women willing to be whipped, the greater the level of respect he has from them.

During this flogging, no emotion is seen neither from the woman nor from the Maza. Not a single crying sound is made from the women neither is there any pity on the face of the men.

The Hamar Woman (Credit: nomadic-by-nature)

The women indeed show a great level of strength and endurance. This whipping is used to create a form of debt and loyalty is demanded back in times of need.

Speaking of which the bride price is usually quite high – around 30 goats and 20 cows. Most Hamar men don’t finish paying the bride price during their lifetime.

Other Traditions 


The Hamar also has a tradition of scarification. The marks are put on the chest, arms, and back. Although they are 90 percent Sunni Muslim, they still retain much of their traditional beliefs.

The Hamar tribe numbers about 20,000. The men handle cattle rearing while the women take care of farming and other domestic chores.

Watch the video below to learn more about the Hamar’s traditions:

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