Ethiopia. In a poor village in Africa for a rare privilege. A group of Europeans, after an appropriate payment to the village chief, can assist at the rite of initiation of a young man that marks the transition to adulthood. Strong and touching scenes absolutely impossible to understand for us travelers.
South-west of the country. Isolated Hammer’s village in the Omo Valley. This area is mostly unknown to traditional tour operators and the usual tourist routes. The day is very special. Today it’s possibile to watch an initiation rite. A great privilege.
Comes with 4×4 tour as far as you can go in this desolate landscape. Now the cracks in the ground make impossible to continue with cross-country vehicle.
You will arrive at the village after more than an hour of walking long, hard and tiring in the hot sun. The two things most indelible memory of this journey on foot: thirst and heat.
A warm unbearable at times interrupted by a warm wind that blows and it gives a slightly indescribable relief, but when his blowing strong the crashing of dust, creeps everywhere and pieces of bushes and branches in contact with sweaty skin is terrible.
How not to think of our air conditioning? Who live in these lands inexorably and probably not even aware of the existence of our comfort.
The welcome at the village is cheerful and friendly and the whole group is breathing a sigh of relief at the sight of the dancing and singing, remembering the experiences of encounter of the previous days, with people Karo and Mursi in particular, which haven’t been the same welcome.
A child has his back ruined by a burn in the fire just happened. Nurse in the group with a scalpel and iodine does his best to try to remove the dead skin. Don’t forgot that the AIDS and other infectious diseases reaches here very high apices.
She rejects the dirty water drawn from their wells and uses sealed bottles of water, trying to clean the wound. It is indescribable the pain tolerance of these little ones.
Unfortunately, with the non-existent resources available, she can’t do much. Pointing to the villagers of the large leaves of a tree, would she try to cover the wound to keep it clean from dust that reigns supreme here and limit the risk of infection (they are all naked and it is impossible to find cloth or gauze), but men the village suggest that the leaves are not suitable for use, showing the milky liquid that comes out when they are cut.
The possible is being done. Again contact with poverty puts into question not only the richness of our developed countries, but the very meaning of our existence and emptiness of the problems that beset every day and the daily toil in vain, in a more impetuous vortex that is literally lose the meaning and the importance of things.
Here we can only accept the fact that we could do nothing. Impotence reigns in extreme poverty.
Trying to put aside these thoughts, you can immediately see how much the Hammer people is friendly.
The bull jumping is a very special and privileged occasion. It’s a practice that permit the passage of the young – in this case seventeen – at adulthood. If the test fails may be repeated the following year but the young will have a terrible year of ridicule by the other members of the village.
The guide contracted with the village chief, the cost of 100 bir/head to attend. So the group is accepted.
Some guys are working to prepare the young initiate. He’s high and thin with an athletic body. Here there aren’t a problems of “turtle upside down” that we know!
The head is shaved from above the forehead and the remaining frizzy long hair are let free and swollen. Only after passing the test, the young will be cut them. During the following month he will be also found a wife.
His first wife will bring a round collar with a handle on the front. The handle is a privilege denied to the other four wives that the young can choose in the years to come.
Some girls of the village play a trumpet with insistence and reach a clearing where other young women jumping, playing, dancing in a circle, moving their body in a frantic and almost ecstatic movement. They are all incredibly sweaty.
On the mats with leather, a little out of the sun (!) sit in a privileged place relatives of the young. Women, obviously, back of the group. The other people of the villagers see the show everywhere.
Women with trumpets break their dances and reach the young men of the village, who are to wield the branches collected in bundles, which will be used as rods.
The women begin to incite like a crazy the men who whip their bodies, above with animal fat to well withstand, heavily sprinkled. At least that’s what the guide says!
It is a strong and baffling show.
The women seem happy to receive lashes, crying out because they are stronger, gesturing imitating the men. At the end of this stage, their backs are marked and bleeding heavily.
Some of them don’t wait a time and the noise of the whip breaks heavily in the sound of their dances. Once that they used the whip, it is thrown to the ground and left there, who knows whether to limit infection or to which tribal absurd reason!
Crazy is the only word that can describe the scene in some way. Thoughts can only focus on the meaning that we give to each trip. About the lack of judgment that must accompany every situation you encounter and about acceptance of the situation that we can’t understand. However, it is all confusing and impossible to accept.
To leave even more surprised and amazed are the tears of a uncontrollable crying fit of a young girl – still a child! – who, after being herself sprinkled with care of animal fat, she isn’t accepted in the group because is too young. Endure the frustrated is considered a sign of honor and strength, and the girl will still have to wait another year. Before this, every European silenced completely and can’t commented anything!
Fortunately, this phase ends and comes the time of the makeup. All the male relatives of the initiate are colored the face with natural colors derived from earth and clay and produce a red outline on their faces, speckled with white.
The initiate at this point makes his promise to behave like a man for the future and for all the life that awaits him. What will they mean exactly with behavior of a real man … maybe it’s better don’t know!
Older women take off their jars placed on the fire and begin to serve all guests the ready coffee. Once this phase, more women begin to incite men to make them stand up and be able to continue with the jumping of the bull, which is the central and most important part of the ceremony. The young man at this point he gets up and, naked, running towards the hill outside the village, to hide in the forest.
The all people follows him and stop in a space where there is already a herd of zebu and the three godfathers, with oily body, that will be the witnesses to the event.
The men hold firm zebus by the tail and horns. The young will have to choose an animal. They all have a name. He will take the name of his choice.
The ceremony lasts a long time and the time passes quickly.
It is the long-awaited moment. Observers are arranged in a circle. The darkness is already dropped but still stands out clearly the dark silhouette of young man jumping on the first zebu, then the second and so on.
The passage should be repeated eight times, and only if there are no errors the test is considered passed.
At the penultimate step, the young man has a hesitation and a slip leaves the spectators with bated breath for a moment. Observers agree, however, that the test as passed and the people rejoiced and began to dance and celebrate. It will continue throughout the night.
The march of return on foot to the 4×4 is a real running against time. The group has only one torch that despite the dim light, he reveals providential. The return is even more tiring of going and the fast pace and the darkness does not allow you to see where you put your feet. Fatigue is infinite, and the darkness in the middle of the forest, with no references it is really disturbing.
After yet another endless toil of the day, the agreed signal, that is the sound of the whistles of the drivers of 4×4 that indicate that they have reached their position, gives an unexpected relief.
Never sound of an ordinary whistle was so appreciated and desired. But you know … in Africa everything is possible!