(SpyGhana)Most women would be happy with a bunch of flowers and a candlelit supper but the ladies of the Surma tribe aren’t your average females. For their men, the only way to leave a lasting impression is by engaging in brutal stick fights that injure some but leave others dead.
Although men aren’t compensated if they’re injured, the families of those who die receive reparations – usually 20 cows or a girl from his opponent’s family.
Those who do win their fights, however, are considered to be heroes and get their pick of the most beautiful girls, as well as acclaim from other members of the tribe.
The ritual, which is known as a donga, takes place after the harvest has been completed and is unique to the men of the Surma tribe who live in Ethiopia’s southern Omo River valley.
But before the fights can begin, there’s another ritual to complete – the ‘blood meal’ ritual that involves drinking two litres of fresh cow’s blood, drained direct into a gourd from the animal’s artery.
‘It consists of making a small incision in a cow’s carotid artery with a special sharp arrow in order to make it bleed,’ explains photographer Eric Lafforgue, who captured these incredible images.
‘The warrior has got to drink the lot in one go as the blood coagulates quickly,’ he continues. ‘Sometimes, warriors don’t manage to drink all of the blood in one mouthful, and end up vomiting everywhere.’
After the blood ritual, the Surma men head to a river to wash themselves before covering themselves with body paint in a bid to highlight their beauty and virility and thus catch the women’s attention.
As the donga fights continue, they become increasingly violent thanks, in a large part, to the tradition of stopping for regular libations in order to give the meeker men a bit of Dutch courage.
‘If a fighter gets hurt, he will not be granted any compensation,’ reveals Lafforgue. ‘If he gets killed, which happens from time to time, his family gets compensation – usually 20 cows or a girl will do. No one will own up to feeling pain but you do see lots of blood and flesh wounds.’
Painful it might be but for the winners, the pain usually proves worth it – in romantic terms at least. ‘The winners have a right to choose girls,’ explains Lafforgue.
At the end of the fights, the champions will point their sticks in the direction of the girls they like the look of and if she puts her necklace around the stick, it means she is happy to be part of his life.
‘Girls are allowed to refuse but being chosen is considered an honour,’ adds Lafforgue. ‘If they give the warrior a necklace, it means they will spend time with him. Before marriage, girls can have sexual relationships with anyone they want but once they are married, it is strictly forbidden.’
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