Khayelitsha, the vast township of Cape Town isn’t lawless.
It’s just that here the laws are different, older. And that, when Intonga stick fighting is involved, instead of arrests and sentences there are cracked skulls and bones.
The martial art has been a rite of passage in the Xhosa culture of rural South Africa for centuries, and to this day it’s often used to settle disputes and grudges. The rules? Simple. Each fighter has two sticks, one for defence and the other for attack. There’s a point-system: six for a head strike, four for the neck, five for the hip. ‘Play’ stops for broken arms, fingers, skulls. Protection? Scraps of clothing wrapped around knuckles. It’s brutal to watch.
A fight can look like a violent, rapid ballet.
Them with their sticks, me with my camera: from different worlds entirely, but for a moment together.
INTONGA is the new series from Sophie Ebrard. It was shot in South Africa’s Western Cape, in Khayelitsha, over the winter of 2019.