Surma Body Painting and Stick Fights, Ethiopia, 1985
After harvest, when Surma men have leisure time, they paint their bodies to attract the opposite sex. On the banks of the river, they mix a paste of chalk and water which they slather over their bodies, and with their fingertips draw designs in the wet paint, exposing the dark skin underneath. Their designs are highly innovative and change daily according to mood.
During this season, groups of men gather together weekly to perform the wildly dangerous Donga stick fight. With bodies covered with paint to intimidate their opponents, top fighters challenge each other to duels. There are no rules to the sport except that a competitor must not kill his opponent. The Donga is fought for three reasons: to prove masculinity, to settle personal vendettas, and, above all, to win wives. The winner will be the first choice of the most desirable girl, singled out by her peers, to select the victor as her husband.