Today, the former British colony is a major tourism destination for China’s increasingly affluent mainland population.
The Hamer who number around 50,000, are subsistence agro-pastoralists. They cultivate sorghum, vegetables, millet, tobacco and cotton, as well as rearing cattle and goats. Wild honey is an important part of their diet. The people are known particularly for their remarkable hairstyles. The women mix together ochre, water and a binding resin, rub the mixture into their hair, then twist strands again and again to create coppery colored tresses known as goscha. These are a sign of health and welfare. If they have recently killed an enemy or a dangerous animal, the men are permitted to don clay hair buns that sometimes support magnificent ostrich feathers. The buns with the help of special headdress (borkotos) for sleeping last from three to six months, and can be ‘redone’ for up to one year.The Hamer are also considered masters of body decoration. Every adornment has an important symbolic significance; earrings for example, denote the number of wives a man has.
The women wear bead necklaces, iron coils around their arms, and decorate their skin with cowry shells. The iron torques around their necks are known as ensente and are worn by married or engaged women only. They indicate the wealth and prestige of the woman’s husband. Young, unmarried girls wear a metal plate in their hair that looks a bit like a platypus’ bill. The iron bracelets and armlets are an indication of the wealth and social standing of the young girl’s family. When she gets married, she must remove the jewellery; it is the first gift she makes to her new family. The Hamer territory stretches across the plains of the Lower Omo to Chew Bahir in the east, almost to the Kenyan border in the south, and to the territory of the Benna in the north.
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