Omo Valley Explorer Part 4: Bull Jumping Ceremony

Read Part 1: Dorze Welcome

Part 2: Hamer Time

Part 3: Crossing the Omo River to meet the Dessanech

We were lucky to be able to attend a Bull Jumping ceremony (Ukuli Bula), which is an initiation ritual marking the transition of a boy to becoming a man. This would allow him to marry (and have children) and to own cattle. Every young man has their own ceremony and there are several specific parts to the ritual.

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Above is the photo of the boy undertaking the ritual. His name was Aisu. The bull jumper can be recognized by his haircut and the small phallic carved wood he has tucked away in his garment.

The day of the ceremony, his community and guests will gather to honour his initiation. Among the guests are men called Maza (or as our guide called them- the Whoopers), these are young men who have just undertaken the bull jumping ceremony but are still single. The women of the bull jumper’s family, with the exception of his mother, come to the ceremony with their hair and bodies covered in butter. They will dance, sing, whistle and blow their horn in circles and ask for the Mazas to whip them. Yes, you read that right. The women ask to be whipped. This is recognized as a form of “gift” from the women to the boy who is about to get initiated. When we arrived, the Mazas had not arrived yet. The women impatiently waited for them, dancing and singing.

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In the photo above, you can see that some of the women already have scarring from previous ceremonies where they were whipped (the women are holding branches with which they will be whipped). You will also observe that all of the women are wearing clothing covering themselves which is not at all traditional. I wasn’t sure whether this was done because they dress this way nowadays or because they knew that tourists would be in attendance.

Finally, the Maza arrived. They wear feathers on their head and carry whips. The girls brought the Maza to a public place and asked to be whipped by jumping slightly in front of him, her arm raised and sometimes with a horn. The more extensive the bleeding on her back, the stronger her devotion to the boy of her family who is becoming a man. Women with large scars on their backs are known for their devotion to their families.

The Maza when undertake a ritual purification in order to go choose the cattle that Aisu will be jumping over. This involves braiding of their hair and getting their faces painted with traditional paint made from crushed stones.

After this, we followed the Maza to the village where there was already a party going on! The families of the young boy- the mother’s family to one side, the father’s in another were sitting around drinking coffee and eating sorghum. It felt like a big Bengali wedding to be honest. Everyone was there hanging out and having a good time catching up with each other. Some of the men and women were involved with brewing the coffee for everyone which they drank out of calabashes.

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There were some rituals that took place at the village including the sacrifice of a goat because his older brother had died before being able to jump the bulls and some more singing and dancing and whipping. Many of the ceremonies related to the boy were held privately. There were tourists who did go and take photos. They seemed to not like this at all, especially when I approached them as a woman. I took this as a cue to stay back and observe rather than push myself in. After all, this is a sacred ceremony. If they don’t want everyone taking photos, that is absolutely their right.

Right after sunset, the Maza went and got the cattle to bring them to the area where the bull jumping would be taking place. Aisu concentrated hard while his female relatives went around the cattle singing and dancing one more time and placed themselves in a line.

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The Maza and the older relatives of the boy manage to bring the cattle into a line with a little bit of force. For the jumper to fall is a big humiliation. Although one fall is usually attributed to the animals, he must complete two back and forths (4 times across the backs of the animals) or face public humiliation which could include public whipping from his female relatives!

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Thankfully, Aisu does very well and is able to undergo his ritual with no issues! And thus, he becomes a man. While we did not stay, there would have been an all-night celebration at the village with lots of dancing, singing and eating to celebrate this important rite of passage.

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Next: Read about Coffee, the Karo Tribe and our Exciting Time at the Market

Part 1: Dorze Welcome

Part 2: Hamer Time

Part 3: Crossing the Omo River to meet the Dessanech

 

 

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