When a Boy becomes a Man
Back in December 2010, I started a five month trip from Cairo to Cape Town. An amazing journey that changed my life for so many reasons. Looking back on this experience, I feel like it was all a vivid dream and still can't believe that I was fortunate enough to make this journey happen. For six weeks of that trip I explored the most diverse and spectacular country I have ever visited, Ethiopia.
From devout Christianity in the north to these spectacular tribes in the south, the cultural diversity within this country is vast. With unique wildlife and spectacular views, Ethiopia is a remarkable location in the midst of a dramatic change as foreign interest is helping Ethiopia develop its infrastructure. I only hope that this doesn't act as the means to an end for these remarkable tribes and that they maintain their unique cultures.
Communities survive in harsh environments
Livestock is currency here
One of the most important parts of life in this region is cattle and other livestock, used for trading within and between tribes. Conflict often occurs between tribes as each seeks the best foraging grounds their their livestock.
Often livestock are used when families discuss marriage. And to highlight the importance of cattle to the Hammer Tribe, cattle feature in their traditional ceremony where a boy becomes a man - the bull run.
Not to be mixed up with the Pamplona bull run in Spain, this event involves a young man running over the back of cattle showing off his physical ability. This momentous occasion sees large crowds gather to witness and take part in these important community events. Everyone comes out in traditional attire and this acts as a means for men and women to interact from other communities.
A contentious issue, in this area whipping and scarification are very common within these communities. You might expect that this is forced upon women by men, but it is quite the opposite, women will harass men in a frenzied state, encouraging them to whip them. Many women have large scars all across their backs from this. Both men and women carry these whips which are also used to herd the cattle.
Those taking part in the ceremony are given a distinct haircut to ensure everyone knows who is involved.
Preparing for the event
The runner (pictured above) took a moment to share a pray with other men, he took in the atmosphere and collected his thoughts as he walked amongst the cattle. Noise steadily increased as the event developed throughout the day and as the sun started to get low in the sky, the noise of women shreaking and bells jingling, strapped to their legs, came to a climax in preparation of the run.
Finally the moment came, abruptly, as all who surrounded the collection of cattle shrilled, filling the otherwise silent, still hot air. The runner jumped. And jumped again. Hopping from one cow to the other. He made his way across their backs, as men held the cattle in place by their tongues, ensuring that they didn't move out of position. Just as quickly as he was up, he was down again on the other side. Making the event look all too easy, so much so that he repeated the process a few more times. Much to the delight of the onlookers.
Eventually he was done, everyone swarmed him, offering praise and showing their vivid happiness at his success. It was clear that he was relieved to have made it through unscaved and that once the ecstasy are receded to a simmer, he collected his thoughts and a breath or two before the celebrations erupted long into the night. Just enough time for me to briefly capture this portrait before leaving the Hammer tribe to enjoy the rest of their festivities.