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A bloody ritual combat

The donga is a kind of traditional bloody duel, also called “sagine”, an ancient tradition of the Suri and Mursi ethnic groups. The name is borrowed from the duel weapon, a stick about 250 cm long. At an agreed signal, the warriors proceed towards the center of the clearing and, two by two, begin to hit each other violently with the dongas, which hiss to stop on their flesh with a dull and sinister sound.

The donga, organized at the end of the sorghum and maize harvest, is fought by young unmarried suri called te’gay, representatives of different b’urans (groups in which neighboring villages are gathered). In a few minutes the blood, whose bright red stands out spectacularly on the dark skin, begins to come out copiously from the open wounds.

The fights end when a contender, wounded or with a broken bone, remains overwhelmed on the ground, or when the difference in strength between the two is too evident. Some young people wear cotton protectors that protect their arms, legs and, thanks to a characteristic and very particular “helmet”, the warrior’s head. However, many suri prefer to fight without any protection, with the intention of showing their courage and, later, the scars that will testify their value as fighters.

The long sticks often hit violently even the closest of the spectators. To be able to take good pictures it is necessary to be forced to be in the front row but, looking through the viewfinder, often one does not notice the rapid and deadly movements of the group. In a short time I am hit on the face and arms, and a donga shatters the front lens of a photographic optic.

PYou can find the full version of this report on:
OASIS – Environmental culture magazine – n. 206
Invisible Peoples – volume published by White Star – National Geographic
Screening – Meeting “A blood red line”
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