We arrived in Turmi late afternoon November 1st after another scenic drive and stayed at Buska Lodge which is located a few kms outside of town. Turmi is home to many of the Hamer people and although just a speck of a town it is the largest settlement of Hamer district. It is known for it’s Monday market where anyone and everyone in the Omo Valley descends to take in the colourful weekly event but alas, it was Friday when we arrived and we would be departing on Sunday so we missed all of the market action.
The next morning we headed out to Omorate, about 25 kms from the Kenyan border to visit the Dasenech tribe, a pastoralist tribe living along the Omo River and are Ethiopia’s most southern people. Interestingly the Dasenech have a natural antipathy to eating fish. Eating fish is really a last resort in times of crisis. We crossed to west side of the Omo River in a dugout boat and walked about 500 metres to a traditional village comprised of small, flimsy domed huts that are reminiscent of the structures built by other desert pastoralists in the Sahara and Kalahari deserts.
We wandered around the village interacting with the villagers. They were going about their daily routine and we felt completely comfortable and welcome in their village.
In the afternoon back in Turmi there was a “jumping of the bulls” ceremony which is a rite of passage for young Hamer boy’s transitioning into manhood. The boys must run across the backs of seven castrated bulls which are covered in dung (to make them slippery) without falling. If they fall more than four times they must wait another year before trying again to reach their manhood. Another part of the ritual involves young girls being whipped with birch sticks. The women asks a boy to whip them on their backs and the boy obliges. It is believed the greater the pain the higher level of submission and loyalty they are showing to the boy and the scars left on their bodies are a symbol of the loyalty they are to receive from the men in return. The idea is at some point in the future the girl may need the young’s mans help and will show him her scars as if obligating him to provide the required assistance.
We knew this would be happening at the ceremony and had no desire to see women getting whipped by men. We have seen the huge welts on the women’s backs and regardless of this being a cultural tradition, it’s probably time to stop this rather barbaric practice. We talked to several tourists who did attend and their observation was there were more tourists in attendance than tribal members and at 800 Birr admittance fee, it would seem this has become more of a cash grab than the continuation of a centuries old practice although as mentioned in our previous post, good or bad, their livelihoods are in turmoil and survival and cash is a strong motivator to continue to draw in the tourists.
We had a relaxing afternoon and then headed out for a short visit to a small local Hamer village. The village probably had a dozen or so family homes spread out over a fairly large area and the only people around were women and children and one or two older men. During the day the boys and men take their goats out to pasture and return in the evening but most stay away from their homes for long periods of time. As we were leaving the goats were making their way back home but no men or boys were in sight.