Photo story by Eric Lafforgue: Stick fighting day in Suri tribe, Ethiopia
Surmas (or Suri) live in southern Ethiopia, on the west bank of the Omo River. Since time immemorial, they have had to fight to protect their land and cattle, especially against their ennemies, the fierce Nyangatoms. Civil War in Sudan flooded the area with AK 47, and raids have become increasingly bloody. In this context of continuous insecurity, Surmas have more than ever to display their courage, their virility and their strength, and Donga is a unique occasion to perpetuate their legend.
In order to witness these ritual fights, a two or three days long drive from Addis Abeba with a 4WD is necessary. Once there, you will spend the night at the Police Station of Turgit (two shacks made with bits and pieces) in the middle of huts and under the constant surveillance of local armed policemen... Just forget about mobile phone, newspapers, TV or any Internet access, you are cut off from the rest of the world, surronded by naked warriors and women wearing lip plates.
One of the main Surma customs is stick fighting. This ritual sport is called Donga or Sagenai. Donga is both the name of the sport and the stick, whereas sagenai is the name of the stick-fighting session. In most cases, stick fighting is a way for warriors to find girlfriends, it can also be a way to settle conflicts. On this occasion men show their resistance to pain, to the young women. The fights are held between Suri villages, gathering hundreds of warriors...
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