If he fails, he’ll have to wait a whole year to try again. And if he succeeds? It means he’s ready to marry a girl of his parents’ choosing and to raise his own children and cattle.
As teenagers, Hamer boys have to go through a rite of passage to be called a man and get married. The ceremony puts the young boys’ bravery and courage to the test. Being able to conquer fear and complete the task ahead is a lesson they have to learn to become a man – it’s also their time trying to take a bull by the horns.
The ceremony, which usually takes place in October or November, involves running on the back of seven or 10 bulls four times without falling. Locals claim they have practiced the ancient ritual for more than three centuries.
The eldest child of a family must go through the rite of passage before his younger siblings can follow. The father, or uncle in his absence, decides when the eldest boy is ready for the bull jump.
Depending on their father’s decision, some boys perform the bull jumping as young as five years old with the help of community members. To show he has chosen his son to go through this rite of passage, the father gives the boy a short stick the Hamer people call Boko.
Presenting the Boko given to him by his father, the boy then has to travel to all of his relatives’ houses to tell them the news and invite them to the ceremony.
The journey can take a few days. The boy’s family decides when the big day should be, and the decision is based on the amount of time it would take them to prepare a feast. As the Hamer people don’t use calendars, the boy gives each relative a coil of rope carefully marked to show the number of days leading up to the ceremony.
Every day, the relatives cut a piece from the rope to keep track of how many days are left before the ritual. As sunset approaches, the young boy gets ready for one of the most important days of his life.
Elders and men who have performed the ritual before, but are not yet married, gather castrated male cattle for the traditional coming-of-age ceremony. They smear the bulls with dung to make them slippery.
Before leaping over the cattle, it is customary for the young boy to be naked and for his hair to be partially shaven. His body is then rubbed with sand to wash away his sins and get rid of bad luck and smeared with dung to give him strength.
As a form of spiritual protection, strips of bark are strapped around his body. With the blaring sound of bells and horns still in the air, the young boy takes a leap. He steps on each bull’s back before making a final jump back to the ground. By demonstrating his agility, bravery, and strength, the young boy shows he is fit to become a man.