There are things in this world, one has to see to believe them. When I came south to see the famed Omo region of Ethiopia, I was stunned to be able to see people I thought they had vanished from the face of the earth, I thought they existed only in some coffee table books from the past. But when I saw the mummy of a Konso king sitting in his hut, I knew I had been wrong. And even when I missed the bull jump in 2006, I knew it was still there to be found.
The southern region of Ethiopia is the most diverse cradle of mankind you can imagine. People and tribes of all sorts still roam the plains, still live like never ever a change had come into the world since mankind was created. So once you arrive at the Konso area, you have stepped into another realm. Seeing houses defended by huge piles of hardwood, gates made of tree trunks and houses of elders built like megalithic stone houses, you know that you have entered another world. Following the newly paved road over their famed agricultural terraces, you enter the wide plains of the Omo river basin, stop at market places where skinny lads hang around to flirt with slim girls adorned with hundreds of colorful beads, where strong cheeked Hama ladies carry their burden and the Banna tribe is trading in cattle and firewood.
Behind the wall of thick forest the tribe of the Mursi is facing extinction. Their customs are the most weird to our eyes, their maidens having their lips cut when they enter womanhood, just to put huge and heavy plates of burned mud into their ever enlarged lip holes. To attract attention, they use all kinds of decoration, looking wild and somehow strikingly beautiful. The men look like warriors from behind the wall of the outer realm, they would not look strange in any stage of a saga written by Tolkien. Walking the forest stark naked they do dress now since visitors from all over the world have broken into their last refuge in the woods.
Right at the banks of the river Omo, the tribe of the Karo has had its villages build here since many centuries. They too paint their bodies, their women have small holes driven into the flesh below their lips and are able to poor water from this washing their small babies, adorable little rascals painted red all over with earth and mud. Their villages would not look strange to the folk who build Stonehenge thousands of years ago and their lifestyle is definitely not much different than from those Europeans who lived when Merlin transferred the stone circle from Ireland to England. They also will disappear sooner or later, since Turkish companies are developing the vast area along the river to grow cotton to feed the textile companies of Turkey.
Morning along the river basin. Bright red carmine bee eaters fly low, take a huge and strangely beautiful bustard for a local transport. Hornbills share the branches of dead trees with bright and beautiful purple breasted rollers, a nearly naked woman guards her fields, acting like a human scarecrow. Kids play the fields, just to come running into their mother’s arms as soon as we appear. A morning not from this world, and yet it still is. Touchingly beautiful, strangely unreal.
It is the Hamar people I find most fascinating and most beautiful. Like the Himba of Namibia they seem to have fallen out of the walls of the tomb of Ramose in Luxor, Egypt. Their hairstyle is strikingly similar to that of the ancient Egyptians and I wonder why I am the only one to have noticed this. But whilst in Egypt I wondered how they pleated their hair into these beautiful curls, here at the land of the Hamar I can see it in front of my eyes. They cover their hair in mud mixed with a special red earth powder and water, girls help each other to create a long lasting beautiful effect. Sure men have no patients for this so their hair is hidden under a strange cup made of mud as well, colored and sometimes fit for a warrior crowned by a feather or two.
Before being able to marry a Hamar Man has to prove he is able to protect his future family. His transfer to manhood is celebrated in a very strange way, the bull jump ceremony. All day the women of the village are dancing, drinking millet beer, running force and back and wait for the so called “beaters”. When those arrive the whole celebration turns out to be a total nightmare for a westerner to watch. Girls are begging the young men to beat them with thin rods cut from bushes and shrubs. They jump in front of the beaters, begging for being hit and make sure the scars they receive never go away. Thus they show they are able to endure any hardship during their wedded life. Hard to believe that anyone would go that far, but here we are in strange Hamar lands.
The end of the celebration is near when the sun is going to set. The beaters all start collecting young bulls, pulling them at their tails and horns, trying to get them into a straight line. The young man of today’s bull jump had opted for twelve bulls he wanted to jump, the last year we had a more clever Candidate, he opted only for six bolls to overcome. So here we were, standing in the middle of a crowd of beautifully adorned young tribesman and the jump could begin.
A very young calf, the jumper would bear the name of this animal in his future life, was standing in front as a kind of ladder. It proofed our nervous young man did not need this support, he jumped straight onto the first larger bull and made it to number five, number six had run out and the young man filled this gap unwillingly but smiled and did not give up. Two more jumps followed and even as he stumbled again we were told that the jump was successful and he was able to start a marriage sooner or later. Gods bless, them for having achieved what they came for, us, for letting us see something so of another world that it is always hard to believe that you had really witnessed such archaic tradition.