Saturday, January 6, 2018

Ritual Scarification & Temporary Face Painting Among The Hamar People Of Ethiopia

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post showcases three videos of ritual scarification and temporary face painting among the Hamar (Hamer) ethnic group of Ethiopia preparing face paint and other men from that ethnic group being face painted.

WARNING*: Brief scenes of women being whipped during a ritual ceremony and brief scenes of naked men are included in these videos.

This post is part of an ongoing pancocojams series about traditional and contemporary body decorations and traditional and contemporary African face and body painting .

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, cultural, and aesthetic purposes.

Thanks to all those who are featured in this post and all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks also to all the publishers of these videos on YouTube.
DISCLAIMER: This post isn't meant to represent all of the different types of face painting or body painting that is worn by Hamar people.

Nor does this post imply that people from this ethnic group always wear face or body paint.

Note that these videos were published in 2011 and 2013. I don't know whether these traditional scarification customs and face & body painting customs are still done.

*One reason why I include WARNING notices in this and other pancocojams posts is to alert adults in public or private schools or other institutions who might want to use this post as supplemental educational material, but are prohibited from or reluctant to use material that contains content that is considered problematic for children and youth in their particular culture/s.

PANCOCOJAMS EDITOR'S COMMENT [Revised January 7, 2018]
Since at least 2015, there have been a number of YouTube tutorials about "African Face Painting" (also given as "African Tribal Painting)". Many of these videos focus on painting temporary designs made out of dots, lines, swirls, and/or other geometric figures on one's face and/or body or on another person's face/body. One example of these YouTube tutorials is "African Tribal Makeup (NIGER) -Traditional Clothing- Maquillage traditionel du NIGER" published by Belledu Sahel, Published on Feb 13, 2015

The videographer wrote in her summary that "This is a traditional makeup and outfit from my country Niger." In response to a question (written in French) about whether the clothing was from the Fulanis, the videographer said that it was Taureg.

The appropriateness of Black people and other people in the United States and other Western cultures wearing so-called "African tribal" face and body painting has been and continues to be hotly debated. Click for a 2016 pancocojams post on the subject of whether it's culturally appropriate for Black people in the African Diaspora (and other people) to paint dots and other so-called African tribal designs on their face and/or body.

Rather than add to that debate, I've chosen to focus on questions that continue to be asked in a number of discussion threads of YouTube videos of these "African Tribal Painting" tutorials. This post and some other posts in this pancocojams series addresses the question: "Which African ethnic groups* do these painted designs (or designs like this) come from?"

Most of the publishers of these tutorials respond to these questions by saying that their designs are "inspired" by various (usually unnamed) African "ethnic groups"*.

*Note that I've substituted the term "ethnic group" for "tribe" as I consider "tribe" to be a term that's loaded with all sorts of negative European colonial connotations.

In an upcoming pancocojams series I'll provide some information gleaned from the internet that may be extrapolated to help explain what some traditional African face/body painting and scarification designs might mean.

Use pancocojams's internal search engine or click the "traditional and contemporary African face and body painting" tag below to find other pancocojams post on this subject.

"The Hamar (also spelled Hamer) are an Omotic community inhabiting southwestern Ethiopia. They live in Hamer woreda (or district), a fertile part of the Omo River valley, in the Debub Omo Zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region (SNNPR). They are largely pastoralists, so their culture places a high value on cattle.


The 2007 national census reported 46,532 people in this ethnic group, of whom 957 were urban inhabitants. The vast majority (99.13%) live in the SNNPR.[1]

According to the Ethiopian national census of 1994, there were 42,838 Hamer language speakers, and 42,448 self-identified Hamer people, representing approximately 0.1% of the total Ethiopian population.[2]


Bull-jumping ceremony
The Hamar are known for their unique custom of "bull jumping," which initiates a boy into manhood. First, female relatives dance and invite whipping from men who have recently been initiated; this shows their support of the initiate, and their scars give them a right to demand his help in time of need. The boy must run back and forth twice across the backs of a row of bulls or castrated steers, and is ridiculed if he fails. [3]"...
As shown in these videos, Hammar girls who are related a boy who will attempt to jump over bulls standing in a row are voluntarily publicly whipped before that ceremony as a sign of their affection for that boy.

Example #1: Hammer wedding at Turmi [Ethiopia]

Keith Rogers, Published on Jan 9, 2011

Various shots of Hammer wedding
Scenes of preparing face paint and actual face painting begin at 3:47 of this video.
There are no scenes of topless women in this video and there's only a very brief scene that includes a naked man jumping the bulls near the end of this video.

Example #2: Rituals - Hamar Tribe - Ethiopia

Selim Fehmi Ozcan, Published on May 13, 2011

Selim Fehmi Ozcan

Country: Ethiopia
Region: Omo Valley
Town: middle of nowhere

Description: This documentary gives a rare glimpse into the world of the Hamar Tribe living in the Omo Valley in Southern Ethiopia. You will see true my eyes, the unique rituals performed around the rite-of-passage ceremony done by a boy trying to make the transition to become a man. Unfortunately, the boy fails to successfully complete the bull jumping thus failing to make the transition to become a man and denied the permission to get married, The rituals include traditional dancing, face and body painting, whipping, clothing and garb, singing and bull jumping - the ‘Ukuli Bula’. The Hamar People share in the same desperate problem as the Karo People with the lack of water and food due to the drought problem currently happening in Southern Ethiopia.
Scenes of preparing face paint and actual face painting are from 2:40 to 3:31 of this video.

Example #3: Tattoo Hunter - Hamar of Ethiopia

Skinsmods, Published on Jan 28, 2013

Dr. Lars Krutak ventures to Ethiopia's Omo Valley to learn about the scarification rituals of the Hamar, a warrior tribe. Women's ritual scarification surrounding the bullah (bull jumping) rite is also featured.
WARNING: This video includes scenes of a young woman voluntarily getting body scars for beautification purposes (around 18:00 to 19:25.

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1 comment:

  1. At 3:11 of this video Hamer Tribe, Omo Valley [Ethiopia] a very young boy is shown whose face and chest is painted white.