Today we are going to meet people who I love the most in the entire country. They are the Hamar people. They are beautiful, sweet, and amazing people.” Ephrem told me and started the engine.
“You love everyone, Ephrem. We’ve been traveling together for six days and I haven’t heard anything negative about anyone from you.” I told him and sat in the front seat.
“You will eventually.” He said with a smile.
It was 9 am. The sun was shining but it wasn’t hot. The last month before the rainy season. I was feeling great.
“Can you tell me more about the place where we are going to today?”
“We are going to a small town called Turmi. It’s the home of the Hamar people. Tomorrow is Monday and it means it’s traditional weekly market day. The market is the best place to meet Hamar people.”
“Do the Hamar people live around Turmi?” I asked Ephrem.
“Some live around Turmi. Their land is a large area: East of the Omo River and north of Lake Turkana. It is also called the Lower Omo region. This area is one of the least developed in entire East Africa.”
“What language do they speak?”
“They have their own language. I can understand the language and communicate well, so we don’t need to hire a local guide. We’ll be fine.”
“Are they pastoral people like everyone in the Omo valley?” I asked him.
“Yes and no. They own cows, sheep, and goats. You can see even camels. But there aren’t that many camels in the area. The family who has a camel, uses it as a pack animal. Some Hamar families grow sorghum, sesame, and beans, but I don’t think they grow enough to last even for a few month. Cattle are the center of the universe for them.”
“What is their religion?”
“They believe that objects like rocks, trees, bushes have spirits and they have supernatural power over people.”
We were driving for a while. I noticed Ephrem wanted to say something but could not decide whether he could say or not.
“Ephrem, feel free to say anything you want. If you don’t feel right we can go back to Turmi and take a one day break. I’ll be perfectly happy to chill all day. I’m not in a rush.”
“It’s not like that,” said Ephrem. “I’m gonna tell you something and it might impact how you see Hamar people.”
“I can handle it, no worries.”
“Some Hamar villages practice a ritual called Mingi. They believe children born with physical abnormalities can bring bad luck to the people. The fear is so great that they kill the babies.”
I’ve been traveling for more than 25 years, and I’ve seen many strange rituals and ceremonies, but this one really shocked me.
“Please don’t bring it up to a Hamar man or woman. It’s taboo and they won’t talk about it,” Ephrem told me.
“Who decides, whether an innocent child is a Mingi?”
“The village elders are the ones who make the decision. These children’s bodies are discarded and don’t even get a regular burial. I don’t know how often this happens, if it happens at all. I’ve never witnessed something like that, ever! Also, keep in mind, officially this ritual is banned and the laws are very strict about it.”
We were driving through the Hamar land. I saw many Hamar people walking on the road, some of them probably were going to the Monday Turmi market. Younger men usually wore shorts and T-shirts, while others were shirtless. Older men wore cloth wrapped around and tied like short skirts. Many wore colorful beaded necklaces and multiple metal bracelets around their upper arms. On their feet they wore sandals. The women were more ornately dressed with long goatskin skirts and aprons that left their backs bare. Most of the aprons covered the women’s breasts, but others did not. The women’s clothes were decorated with glass beads and white shells. Their hair was tightly braided and smeared with a mixture of ochre and oil. They also wore many earrings and necklaces strung with snail shells and glass beads and metal bracelets on their arms. Some women wore very distinctive necklaces made from metal and leather called “burkule”. Such a necklace is worn by a woman who is the first wife of a man.
Ephrem was right. The Hamar people were one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever seen.