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Bull Jumping Ceremony – Omo Valley – Ethiopia
In the Hamar and Bana tribes when the boy is ready for to become a “man” (Maza) and go on to have cattle, get married and have children he is given a miniature club known as Boko by the family elders. His head is partially shaved. Boko is his permission to start inviting other family and friends to his Bull Jumping ceremony. The ceremony is his gateway to enter manhood and become a Maza. On this important day known “bara” the men start to build shelter for the guests to sit under and women grind maize to ferment and make alcohol.
On a set day (Gati) the ceremony starts as a group of Mazas (those who have already jumped over bulls) arrive at the site carrying long thin switches and for whom the boy’s family, friends and guests, especially the women folk, have been waiting for. As per tradition these women are prepared to be whipped as a show of their affection and devotion for the boy who is about to become a man. Young girls as well as women run up the Mazas in a frenzy to be the first to be whipped on their backs.
Backs of many of these women already have severe welt marks from previous ceremonies in which they had been whipped. Welt marks are considered a sign of love and devotion. The more welt marks a girl has the more it translates into her devotion to her brother and also help in attracting a potential husband. Most women wear bras during the whipping so that the breast would be protected from whip marks.
There is normally a lot of horn blowing, chanting and dancing as the women try to drum up more excitement and fervour and try to alleviate the pain from the whipping. This goes on for at least 2 hours followed by drinking locally brewed drink “farsi”, leading to more vigorous dancing and chanting and demands for more whipping.
Towards the end of the day the Mazas and other elders gather 10 to 15 bulls, get them next to each other side by side and hold them by the horns on one end and the tails the other. When ready, the novice (Ukuli) will run over the backs of the bulls naked as many times as he can but he must run a minimum of 4 times to become a Maza. He needs to do that without falling off lest he should be ridiculed for the rest of his life by family and friends. Feat is not easy as any miss-step can cause injury especially if falling on bulls’ horns. At the end of his jump his head is shaved off as he joins the other Mazas.
After the ceremony and for the next 3 days, period known as “Gati”, the family and friends rejoice dancing, eating meat and drinking “farsi”. At the end of third day guests disperse back to their own homes.
On becoming a Maza he would join a band of other Mazas. Mazas live on their own until they find a woman to marry, meanwhile surviving only on milk, cattle blood, honey, meat and drinking traditional coffee made from coffee husks. They are not permitted to eat anything else. Mazas perform an important role at all Bull jumping ceremonies. This is also where they may find potential partners.
By Bharat Patel