Introduction / History The Hamar of Sudan are part of a larger group known as the Hammer-Banna. The Hammer-Banna, in turn, belong to a group of culturally very distinctive peoples known collectively as the Sidamo. Though racially very mixed, the Sidamo retain no traces of the original indigenous population of the area.
The Hammer-Banna are primarily herdsmen who inhabit the highlands east of the Omo River and north of Lake Turkana in southwestern Ethiopia. This area, called the Lower Omo region, has remained one of the most inaccessible and least developed parts of East Africa.
The Hammer-Banna consist of two separate ethnic groups (Hamer and Banna) that speak virtually the same language. They call themselves by their group name (either Hamer or Banna). Most of the Hammer-Banna in Ethiopia speak Hamer-Banna, but those in Sudan speak Baggari.
What are their lives like? The Hamar of Sudan are primarily herdsmen. Their herds consist mainly of cattle, though there are some herds of sheep and goats. Camels are used for riding and as pack animals. Most Hamar also grow sorghum, the staple crop, and some plant sesame and beans. The crops are usually left unattended; thus, yields are low and insufficient.
The Hamar live in camps that consist of several related families. The families live in tents arranged in a circle, and the cattle are brought into the center of the camp at night. When the campsite is being set up, beds for the women and young children are built first; then the tent frame is built around it. The tents are constructed with flexible poles set in the ground in a circular pattern. The poles are bent upward, joining at the top, then tied. The structures are covered with thatch during the dry season and canvas mats during the rainy season. Men and older boys usually sleep on cots in the center of the camp, near the cattle.
Marriages are traditionally endogamous (marriage within a small social circle) and are frequently polygynous (having more than one wife). Bride-wealth, in cattle and other goods, is provided by the prospective husband, with help from his near relatives. The primary domestic unit is a woman and her young children, with a male protector. A man may be the protector of more than one household, depending on the number of wives he has. Also, men are sometimes assigned the responsibility of protecting a divorced woman, a widow, or the wife of an absent husband (usually his brother).
One striking characteristic of the Hamar men is that they indulge in elaborate hair-dressing. They wear a clay "cap" that is painted and decorated with feathers and other ornaments. Much time is spent in preparing the hair, and care must be taken to protect it from damage. This is one reason the men often sleep on small, cushioned stools. A well-dressed man will wear a toga-like cloth and carry a spear and a stool. Women also commonly wear colorful toga-like garments.
What are their beliefs? The Hamar are practically all Muslim, but for many, Islam has not become internalized. Various elements from their old religion still exist. Before converting to Islam, they worshipped a supreme sky god. The belief that objects such as trees, springs, and rocks have indwelling spirits still lives on. They also believe in jinnis, or spirits that are capable of assuming human or animal form and exercising supernatural influence over people.
The Hamar celebrate life-stage transitions. Marriage celebrations include feasting, dancing, and courting opportunities for young people. Circumcision is important for both boys and girls.
What are their needs? Northern Sudan is hostile towards the Gospel, and Christians there are undergoing severe persecution. Intense prayer is the first step towards seeing Sudan illuminated by the Light of Jesus.
Prayer Points Ask the Lord to open the doors of Sudan to the preaching of the Gospel.
Ask God to anoint the spiritual ears of the Hamar as they listen to Christian recordings in their language.
Pray that God will protect the few Hamar believers and use them to share Christ with their own people.
Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.
Pray that strong local Christian fellowships will be raised up among the Hamar.