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Book: Body Talk and Cultural Identity in the African World

Chapter: 7. Nonverbal Communication Codes among the Hamar: Structures and Functions

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.24095


The Hamar are a semi-pastoralist society living in the south western Ethiopia close to the lower Omo valley. Although the Hamar are predominantly pastoralists keeping cattle near the Omo Valley, their economy is characterized as a mixture of pastoralism and shifting agriculture. The population of the Hamar, according to the 2007 national census, is 46,532. Nevertheless, the Hamar dominates the region because of the high tourist attraction associated with their unique cultural practices such as bull jumping, Evangadi dance, clothing, hairstyle, and body paintings. The Hamar uses an intricate system of nonverbal communication system including body scar, body paintings and object language (clothing, hairstyle, necklaces and decoration with animal skins) in order to communicate various social, cultural and political meanings that are largely conscious acts. A person’s social status (married, unmarried, engaged, hero, wealthy, etc.), political rank as well as cultural values, norms and expectations are communicated through a range of nonverbal codes. This study examines the linguistic encoding of the nonverbal communication system and looks into the structure, function and evolution of the nonverbal codes. The study further investigates the impact of modernity, tourism and the global economy on the nonverbal communication coding of the Hamar society.

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