GREAT AFRICAN RIFT VALLEY EXPEDITION
Blood spurts from a deep gash, one of the many that crisscross her naked back. She grunts in wide-eyed pain and then dances forward, tossing her head, spraying him with butter fat and ochre from her thick plaited hair that hangs in a fringe above her face, taunting him to whip her again. Down cracks the whipping stick – more blood.
Metal bracelets, armbands and anklets jingle as she dances forward again, her leather skirt decorated with beads and cowrie shells swings from side to side, revealing her strong shapely thighs. I wince as he raises the long thin whipping stick…crack! even harder this time, and another deep slash is added to the others. Adi tells me, that as proof of her Hamer tribal culture, she will proudly wear her horrific scars for life.
The expedition has reached a Hamer village in the South Omoarea of the Great African Rift and it’s difficult to understand what’s happening around us. More girls run excitedly into the circle and the ritualistic beatings from the boys they like, continue. Some girls even use a small curved metal horn to rudely blow into the young man’s ear so aggravating him enough to encourage further beatings. Alcohol and the sniffing of strong tobacco helps the girls endure the pain. Later ash will be rubbed into the deep wounds.
It’s all part of a three day Hamer tribe initiation ceremony that culminates with a naked young man having to leap up and ‘streak’ along the backs of a number of bulls and then repeat the performance several times so as to prove his manhood. If he succeeds he can take a wife, if he fails he will have to wait a year until the build up to the big rains and the next bull jumping event.
We leave the ceremony with mixed feelings and that night Adi gets hopelessly lost trying to lead us down to the Omo River – will keep you posted.
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