Publication Type: Journal article / chapter
Countries: Ethiopia
Authors: Olisarali Olibui Shauna LaTosky
Funders: AHRC

This open access article in Antropologia Pubblica comes out of research by the South Omo Theatre Company.

Dônga, an ancient form of stick duelling practiced by the Mursi (Mun) 1 of southwest Ethiopia is
both a competitive martial art and ritual performance through which the tensions, predicaments and
conflicts of society are confronted and resolved. As articulated in the anthropological literature, dôn-
ga constitutes a socio-political mechanism that promotes societal stability and prevents the disinte-
gration of social relations (Turton 1973; 2002). In this paper we offer a view that expands on expla-
nations of dônga in socio-political terms by looking also at its ritual, gendered and aesthetic aspects,
and how it is that dônga has recently come into direct dialogue with the contemporary political
events unfolding in South Omo through the first-ever Mursi-authored performance about dônga. Set
against the dramatic backdrop of the arrival of Ethiopian military in Mursiland in November 2019,
the original script, written by Olisarali Olibui and Tesfahun Haddis, illustrates the preoccupations
of every Mursi at this time: the brutalities during the government’s forced disarmament campaign,
and their uncertain future as pole-wielding pastoralists. We consider dônga as one of the central
metaphors for the predicaments of Mursi today, as both the performative practice of dônga and the
principles it stands for – the protection of rights and restoration of societal unity – have come under
threat. The suppression of dônga through the use of political rhetoric since 2012 has been ramped
up at the same time as state military forces have disarmed the Mursi. This conjuncture has spurred
some members of the group to express their political agency and customary forms of reconciliation
in new ways.