Turkana Route II – Bull Jumping ceremony

Turkana Route II (klein) 1Like in Arba Minch, it is very hot in Turmi. However in the shade of the mango trees and with the breeze blowing through the valley, it is OK. We use the Sunday to relax, to select some photos and to do some maintenance. At the end of the afternoon we walk with Jan and Margriet (blog) and Pim to the adjacent Buska Lodge for a beer. Not a bad way to spend the day! Even the next morning we can take our time to eat breakfast and pack the tent, for the Bull Jumping ceremony only begins after lunch.

With the help of some guys at the campsite we manage to buy some fuel. There is no gas station in Turmi, but fuel can be found on the ‘black market’. It is slightly more expensive than the gasoline we could get at the gas station in Arba Minch, but still OK. The two boys leave on a small moped to the centre of Turmi and come back a little later with a large white plastic bag containing eight water bottles filled with Turkana Route II (klein) 3fuel. It looks good, there is no dirt or water in the fuel, so we feel OK to use this. Especially with the filter we have in our fuel tank. It is enough to top off both bikes. Two days earlier we had also bought some extra food and water in Turmi, just to be sure. Certainly the bottles of water were going fast in this hot weather.

Once the tent is packed and we have had lunch, we drive with Pim, Jan and Margriet to Turmi. In the center a long line of Land Cruisers is blocking the road. There are all packed with tourists that have come to watch the Bull Jumping ceremony. We follow the long line of cars out of town and turn onto a narrow path. On either side of the sandy path we pass a dense acacia forest. Between the trees we catch a glimpse of some goats and cows. We follow the trail a few kilometres until the path is again blocked by a long line of 4x4s. Even more tourists.

Our motorcycle jackets, helmets and other loose items that we bring to the motorbikes (like the tank bag and duffel) we put in the car with Pim and Jan. It is great to travel on motorbikes, but sightseeing is always a bit of a puzzle. We cannot just leave our stuff on the bike everywhere. And sometimes you would also like to take off the suit and the motorcycle boots. A ride from someone else, like the ride with Pim to the market in Dimeka, is really nice because that way we can stroll around the market in our regular clothes and with normal shoes.

Turkana Route II (klein) 3With a full Camelbak on my back I follow Margriet further down the path. At the bottom of the path a large group of tourists is standing in the full sun in the dry riverbed. Their attention, cameras and video cameras aimed at the Hamer people sitting in the shade of the acacia trees. They have found the better spot! All the boys from Turmi seem to have taken up the job of ‘guides’. They walk among the tourists to collect the Ethiopian Birrs before the ceremony can begin.

The Hammer girls look beautiful. Not only their beautifully decorated leather clothes and their particular hair due, but also the bells they wear around their calves. It makes a nice sound when they walk. The girls sit down to chat and pose for our photos. I think we are just as interesting to them, as they are to us. Sometimes you see them suddenly all look in a certain direction at the same time and then laugh really hard. Perhaps it is sometimes a good thing we cannot understand them.

Many villagers have come down to visit the ceremony. It is one of the most important ceremonies in the Hamer society. The ceremony is the culmination of a three-day initiation rite for young Hamer men. On the third and last day of the initiation, the young Hamer man Turkana Route II (klein) 4should run naked over seven bulls three to five times. The bulls are then standing in a row next to each other. If he succeeds, he may choose a wife. If he fails, he must wait a year before he can try again.

But that is not all. The Hamer women play an important role in the ceremony as well. To demonstrate their devotion to the Hamer boy jumping the bulls, to are ritually hit with long thin branches. They choose the branches themselves and challenge the boys from the village to hit them with the branches by dancing in front of them while pushing the branches in his hand. If they are hot, the branches bend around their body and leave a deep wound on their backs. The bloody wounds and scars are a sign of honour, the more scars, the greater the status of the lady is. For the same reason, they make the wounds extra dirty to get an even bigger scar. All in all a painful affair. The day begins with the women drinking a local brew (lots of it). We follow the Hamer people over the riverbed to a clearing in the acacia forest. Several women already have gaping wounds on their backs. I have rarely seen such wounds and can imagine that they have been trying to get drunk that morning to prepare for this.

Once in the open space, the tourists form a circle within which the Hamer ladies dance, sing, jump and blow their horns. It sounds very Turkana Route II (klein) 5catchy and rhythmic. Next to the dancing crowd, there are some Hamer boys, not older than 16 or 17 years. While the ladies are dancing, they taunt the boys to take their branch and to hit them. We cannot understand what they say to the boys, but it is clearly not friendly. Between the ladies there a real battle is going on to ensure that the boy takes their branch. And once they have tackled the boy to take their branch the woman keeps dancing and singing until a loud slap sounds. SLASH, like a whip of an animal trainer. No screaming, no tears, no shrinkage. She got her tap, a gaping wound on her back and continues to dance to convince the guy to hit her again. But she has had her turn, the other ladies are now crowding around the boy, pushing him around and trying to get their slap. For the ladies a painful affair, but the young men who has to hit them does not seem very happy with the job that was assigned to him either. It is part of the ceremony, but to maim your own aunt, sister or niece might be difficult as well.

Turkana Route II (klein) 7From a distance Margiet and I watch how one after another woman is hit, until I have had enough of it. It is clear that the women choose to be hit, because some of them remain a bit in the background. It usually are the same (most drunk) ladies in the front that get the most hits. But the sound of that branch on their back is so awful that I cannot look at it any more for my own ’amusement’. But then again, I am also the type that watches a scary film through the slits of her eyes while she holds her hands to her ears. Peter, Pim and Jan seem to be less bothered by it.

After this part of the ceremony is over, the bulls come to the scene. A large group of bulls calmly enters the circle of tourists. The men of the village choose a number of bulls and try them put them side-by-side. Not an easy task, because the bulls give a proper fight. The men grasp the bull by the horns and their tail and they try to put it in place.

While the bulls are put in place, the ‘Bull Jumper’ is taken apart by his friends and the men of his family. They form a circle around him in Turkana Route II (klein) 10an attempt to keep the tourists away for this part of the ceremony. Something that does not always work, because some tourists put their cameras over the heads of the men to take a picture anyway. Very particular, probably a ’unique photo opportunity’.

After this part of the ceremony is done, the young man gets ready to jump the bulls. His fellow villagers mingle with the tourists to properly see his attempt. He takes a run-up, jumps on the first bull, run across the backs of the seven bulls and jumps off on the other side. Then he turns around and runs across the row of bulls again. Strak naked he hops from one back to the other. He manages to run back and forth four times. Not the required five times, but from the murmur of approval around us, we gather that he has succeeded. He can choose his wife.

The ceremony is over and the tourists walk back to their cars. With mixed feelings I look at the gaping wounds on the backs of the ladies. It is an ancient tradition associated with their culture, but I personally have some difficulty with the mutilation (often of women) that is part of the ceremony. Moreover, it feels like a ’show’ that is put up for the large number of tourists that Turkana Route II (klein) 9is here, which makes the mutilations even more questionable. On the other hand, it is undisputed that the ceremony is still part of the Hamer society and will occur anyway, with or without tourists. It may perhaps feel like a show, but is their right to invite tourists to the ceremony, take advantage of the tourist interest and generate an income therewith.

After the ceremony, we continue our way from Turmi to Omorate. It is dusty and hot, but the dirt road is fine to drive. At the beginning of the evening we arrive in Omorate, the last place in Ethiopia before the border with Kenya. We drink a warm Coke, eat the last enjera we will eat in a long time and then crawl into our tent. Tomorrow the real adventure begins when we ride along Lake Turkana to Kenya!

Click here to view the photos

Distance to Omorate: 12.824km (7.969 miles)

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| Leonie | AFRICA, Ethiopia

6 Reacties (Comments) - Turkana Route II – Bull Jumping ceremony

  1. Gerard van der Kamp

    Gemengde gevoelens bij het als toerist kijken naar tradities in andere culturen waarbij mens of dier gepijnigd wordt: respect voor de traditie, pijn voor het leed. Herkenbaar. Dank voor jullie verhalen en wij wensen jullie een prettige voortzetting van de reis toe. Anja en Gerard.

  2. Anna Beukema

    Wat weer een verhaal en prachtige mooie foto’s. Maar wat een ritueel. Brrrr.En Leonie, wat kan ik me je dubbele gevoelens tijdens het kijken goed voorstellen… Ik had er nog nooit van gehoord maar ik denk dat er geen internetsite is die beter uit kan leggen wat dit voor een ceremonie is. Mijn complimenten weer Leonie.XXX

  3. Agnes

    Au, au, au! Ik was het verhaal nog niet vergeten. Mooi om nu weer te lezen en te zien. Xx

  4. Marloes

    Margriet & Jan en Pim, bekende namen van het worldwideweb, doe ze de groeten 😉

    Erg leuk ondertussen jullie verhalen te volgen! Op dit detailniveau lijkt het soms echt weer of we er zelf zijn :)

    Safe travels voor Turkana!

    Evt tips in de buurt:
    – Palm Shades camp in Loyangalani (don’t miss de gigantische en verse Tilapia-vis voor diner)
    – Samburu camp in South Horr
    – Missiepost in Laisamis bij Father Isaiah

  5. Mip

    Geweldig verhaal en prachtige foto’s weer! x Mip

  6. Herman Schutte

    Indrukwekkende foto’s en verhaal, nooit eerder gehoord van die rituelen. Je maakt wat mee. Goede reis verder.