Walking stilts have been defined as “poles equipped with steps for the feet to stand on, and straps to attach them to the legs, for the purpose of walking while elevated above a normal height.” Stilt walking has been around for a long time, either for agricultural uses, domestic uses or to ease traveling through the swampy ground as was done by some communities in France in the late 1800s.
The ancient art is now usually seen at festivals, parades and street events, used largely for the fun of it. Among the Banna people of Ethiopia who live in the arid lands that lie East of the Omo River, legend has it that the men took to stilts to protect themselves from being attacked by wild animals as they walked around their region. But today, if you are to move to the area called the Lower Omo Region where the Banna usually reside, you would find that walking on stilts has largely become a fun thing mostly for young boys, making them much taller than others.
Tourists continue to troop to Banna communities as apart from stilt walking, they have a unique culture and customs that have been kept for hundreds or thousands of years. The Banna, sometimes called the Benna or Banya, put tradition on a pedestal. A Nilotic ethnic group in Ethiopia, they number about 45,000, with some found mostly in areas around Chari Mountain near Kako Town and a savanna area near Dimeka, a report by the Atlas of Humanity said. The Banna are largely Muslim and have their own king, the report added.
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Some historians call them called the Hamer-Banna as they are neighbors with the Hamer people, who are located among the bush-covered hills on the eastern side of the Omo Valley in southern Ethiopia. It is documented that the Banna actually originated from them centuries ago but later migrated in search of pastures to breed their cattle. To date, even though the Banna are known for keeping bees, most of them are cattle breeders. When it’s dry season, men walk long distances with their herds to look for water and grass and to harvest wild honey.
But being closely linked to their neighbors, the Hamer, means sharing common rituals and traditions. Living in camps made up of several related families, Banna boys, to prove that they have come of age, must go through some rituals, one of them being a cattle-jumping ceremony. Typically, before young men among the Banna can qualify for marriage, own cattle and have children, they must engage in the cattle-jumping or bull-leaping ceremony, just like the Hamer. The young man must leap across 15 cows in order to be allowed to marry and once that is achieved, a celebration is held to end the ceremony. Women sing and dance, giving them all the support they need.
What’s more, just like the Hamer, Banna men can marry more than one woman, with the bride price often being cattle and other items. A man can also be asked to protect a widow, a divorced woman or the wife of an absent husband, mostly his brother.
Interestingly, the amazing hairstyles you would find among Banna women containing beads held together with butter, are almost the same hairstyles you would find among Hamer women. Butter is applied to the hair to protect it from the sun and keep it perfectly supple.