For ladies who believe so much in the marriage institution, there are no roads too long to go to achieve their dreams. Some survive a lot of heartbreaks before meeting their prince charming and the joy that follows hides their many hidden scars. However, for some, the scars cannot be hidden and they wear them with pride, a testament to the pains they went through before ‘securing ‘ the love of their lives. This is the story of the Hamar tribe in southwestern Ethiopia – an Omotic community where women are viciously flogged before marriage.
According to the 2007 national census in Ethiopia, 46,532 Hamar people inhabit the territory east of the Omo River and have villages in Turmi and Dimeka. One distinguishing feature of the Hamar tribe is their practice of body adornment. They wear a multitude of colourful beads while their women adorn their necks with heavy polished iron jewellery.
As a way of life, it is the duty of women and girls to grow crops as well as collect water, do the cooking and look after the children. For the young men, they work the crops, defend the herds or go off raiding for livestock from other tribes, while adult men herd the cattle.
However, when it comes to marriage, things take another turn. In the tradition known as Ukuli Bula, women are viciously beaten as a ritual in finding a soulmate. For men, the bull-leaping ceremony is one they must succeed at in order to get married. This part also involves his sisters and young female relatives being whipped with sticks before the actual jumping of the bulls takes place. A Hamar man comes of age by leaping over a line of cattle as an initiation rite-of-passage.
The bull-jumping celebration lasts several days with family members and friends present and this usually takes place in the afternoon. The young man is bathed in the river before the bull-jumping ceremony. Before the young man jumps, the women invite the men to whip them.
If the man fails the bull-jumping ceremony, he will be disowned, even whipped by women. This is not the end of him though, he will be allowed to try again another year.
When the woman gets flogged, instead of breaking down in tears, she jumps with joy, declaring her love for the man. The scars on her back are said to be proof of her sacrifice for the man, and it is therefore impossible for the man to refuse her needs in hard times or emergencies.
To lessen the effect of the whipping, they coat their bodies with butter. The beating is only done by Maza – those who have already undergone the rite-of-passage. However, if things get tough for the women later in life, they will look to the boy who whipped them to request help.