The struggles and success of one Hamar women
Cherri Hiyo grew up just like the other Hamar girls in her village. She was the middle child in a family of five and expected to contribute her share of daily duties to keep the household going. Grains had to be ground, goats milked, water collected, meals prepared and younger siblings taken care of. All important lessons for the biggest expectation of all, that she would one day become a Hamar man’s wife, have her own children and household to take care of.
Traditional marriage in Hamar works through an arrangement between the donza – respected elders in the Hamar community. Donza come together to discuss and determine suitable partnerships which take into careful consideration clan lineage and other aspects of family history.
Before any marriage arrangement can be made, the more widely known and celebrated tradition of Ukili – bull jumping must take place first. During this ceremony a ‘boy’ (someone who has not yet jumped the bulls, the age varies greatly) literally jumps over a number of his family’s cattle several times whilst naked, to become a ‘man’.Dowry negotiations follow after the ceremony and agreed instalments of goats and calabashes of honey, a cow or a gun for a wealthier bride’s male relatives are made over the years. In Cherri’s case her dowry was six goats, two calabashes of honey and a sack of sorghum.Growing up in a traditional Hamar village far from the influences of town, there was never an option for Cherri to go to school but through opportunism, she found a part-time job watering vegetables at a tourist lodge close-by.
A few years later on her wedding eve, Hamar women chanted and people drank parsee – traditional sorghum beer, sending her off into the night to her husband. Traditional to the culture, Cherri would spend the next months in a shalla – the attic of her mother-in-law’s hut, head shaven and her body covered in butter and red ochre in preparation for her rebirth as a wife.After being in the shalla for several months, she moved in with her husband and received blessings from his family to conceive their first child. But soon after blessings came beatings. Domestic violence is not uncommon in Hamar marriages and is taken as a husband’s ‘right’ to discipline his wife. Cherri ran away often in the early days of her marriage but was punished by other men who found her and returned to her husband each time. Soon after becoming pregnant she ran away to her mum. Her mum was widowed and lived alone so she was safe from being chased out. Cherri gave birth to her daughter in 2016, one of the worst droughts in recent times which lasted the whole year in Southern Ethiopia.
The three generations of women lived in a stick shack on the Kaske river’s edge. Cherri refused to return to her husband and they were all but ostracised from village life, and dependent on government relief for food.As tough as life would have been for the three women at that particular time, Cherri had the independence to seek different opportunities and to earn money again as she had done before marriage. Cherri soon became a regular face at Kaska campsite, passing through on her way to market, she started selling traditional jewellery to tourists, sweeping up, washing clothes, boiling coffee and making herself an indispensable part of camp life.Today Cherri has earned enough money to start her own small herd of goats and cows which provide milk for her daughter, and any extra is sold at the market. She also built new grass huts for herself and her mum and can now afford to buy sorghum grain when the rains don’t come.Not all Hamar women share the same story as Cherri. Many do, and many others are vulnerable in different ways. To tackle inequalities and provide new opportunities for educating and empowering women in the Hamar community, we are eager to start a women in enterprise project which brings together small groups of women to learn basic business skills over a period of 3-9 months followed by continuous mentoring.
The business course will be lead by a female trainer who speaks Hamar language and understands the local culture. We would also like to be able to award small start-up grants to groups of women who come up with brilliant and viable business ideas. The start-up grant could be used by the women to purchase local materials and goods such as chickens, vegetable seeds or local beads.The main goal of our women’s project is to support hard working women like Cherri by giving them access to skills and income, helping them be able to make healthy choices for their families. It’s a long term approach which supports women in a very sustainable way. If you’d like to be kept updated about our progress with the women’s project in Hamar, please just sign-up to our monthly email newsletter and we’ll be in touch soon. Or directly donate to help us reach more women with training and seed capital grants through our website here.