Keyafer, the Banna and the Hamer and bull jumping

Thursday is market day in Keyafer – travelling here is usually organized around market days, one: because you get to see and meet what, i.e. who has put the region on the map, and two: actual traffic between places is often limited to market days in one of them. In other words: there may be a bus (as in: one bus) from A to B on a market day in either A or B.


The market in Keyafer was a relief! It is a much more natural environment than is the encounter of tourists and the Mursi in the few villages where they meet. Keyafer market is lively, colourful and very “natural” in comparison, since the “tribes people” don’t come here for tourists, at least not primarily, and simply conduct their businesses with town’s people and so on. I loved walking around, buying a few things, and eventually I pulled out my mbira and had a lot of fun with a bunch of kids. The market is dominated by Hamer and Banna people, two tribes that are historically related. Their members also look very similar and share a lot of customs. More information on both tribes here and here.

the “pub”

Another trip led me out into the bush to witness the bull-jumping ceremony and stay the night. We were a group of three, a lovely Dutch couple and me. Once our minibus had left the solid dust track, our driver managed to go straight through the bush, no tracks nothing. He had the nerve to drive the bus straight through the deep sand of a dried-out riverbed, the engine howling as if it were to die any moment. Since none of us could communicate directly with the people gathering for the ceremony, our encounters were a bit awkward from the start. From what our guide told us we would be witnessing an initiation ceremony for a young man about to prove his readiness for marriage. Amongst many other things he would have to jump some cows, the part with which tourists are attracted. The irritating part is the the ritual whipping of the women, and I found the behaviour of other tourists that turned up later just as irritating. I have written about this in a separate post.

My tent, within the safe space of the court of the clan leader’s second wife.

I would stay the night in a small tent I had borrowed. The only tourist left, I enjoyed the local party – only the young people, mostly in their teens, were partying. It was pitch dark, and the music was clapping of hands, stomping of feet and the singing of the boys as they were jumping as high as they could in the manner typical of Nilotic peoples. Girls would roam about in groups, and if impressed by some boy’s performance, would choose him. To do what? – I only heard rumours that were very suggestive. I still don’t know what they meant really. At some point I had my fill, though I was hungry. I retired to my tent for a while, and with really kind support of some guys prepared, and shared, the food I had brought along. When I returned to the open-air “club”, the singing and dancing had stopped, and people were getting together with the partner of their choice, or in groups. One very young girl found she’d like to be with me, and I teased her a bit to the entertainment of the people around us. Well, when you depend on an interpreter, teasing only goes so far. Eventually I had the guy who’d been asked to take care of me and to be my interpreter tell her that, no, I was not available.

The morning after was quite different. Toiletries in the bush, well it’s something to get used to or not. As for me, it’s a no. Then I joined the family for coffee (and skipped the beers and licquors). That coffee was prepared with the brown water the women had fetched from the bed of the dry river, and it got a bit browner when they threw in the roasted coffee beans. This is how coffee must have been invented a while ago … They passed me somebody’s calabash and I drank. As someone once sang, you gotta have faith faith faith. Well, I know my stomach can take it by now.

Finally, a guy on a motorbike came to pick me up, and we chased through the bush and, worse re speed, along the road for some 40 minutes, me, my luggage and all. I’d wanted adventure, right?! …

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