The cool calmness of the previous evening had been suddenly interrupted by the sounds of a bullfight and the cracking of branches as an enraged bull broke through the barrier of the kraal. The thundering hooves had come right past my tent followed by the sounds of human strides as two Mursi tribesmen followed in pursuit.
I asked my friend Emanuel what the destiny of the bull would be?
“They will catch him, keep him separate from the herd tonight and calm him down in the morning.” He explained that if a bull gets too much blood to the head it makes him aggressive and this in turn results in the whole herd being unsettled.
I woke the next morning to the painted face and scarred chest of a Mursi man staring at me through my mosquito net – not a vision that dreams are made of but certainly a sight to behold. He pulled at my ankle, pointed at my camera bag and gestured that I follow him.
The rogue bull and two young Mursi men stood in what was an otherwise empty kraal. As we approached, one of the youngsters placed a rope – made of goat skin - around the bull’s neck and positioned himself between the back of the bull’s horns and its neck. The young man then got a firm grip on one horn with one hand while his other hand began to tighten the rope.
The second young man began to ready himself with rudimentary bow and arrow. ‘Prince Not So Charming’ who had woken me from my slumber then stroked his hand over the bull’s neck feeling for the jugular. With his forefinger he marked the spot where the arrow was to be fired.
Young Mursi man one then dug his heels in and tightened his grip on both the bull’s horn and the rope around its neck. Young Mursi man two pulled taught on his bow and arrow while Prince Uncharming crouched down with calabash in hand.
THWACK…. The arrow hit its mark and was pulled out just as quickly. A fountain of blood erupted from the bull’s neck and spewed into the well positioned calabash. The consistent and strong flow of blood quickly filled the vessel.
The rope was loosened, the blood flow stopped and a paste of ash and mud was placed over the neck wound. A small slow trickle of blood now the only sign of the previous 30 seconds’ drama.
My Prince Uncharming then sat down and brought the calabash to his lips. Without stopping or ‘breaking stride’ he proceeded to consume what must have been approximately one and a half litres of pure, warm, unfiltered, unpasteurised bull blood.
Placing the empty calabash on the ground next to him the Mursi man then hung his head and sat motionless for the next five minutes – I later found out that drinking blood initially makes one feel bloated and lethargic but thereafter it makes you “very strong”.
I too sat down and waged war on myself for not having captured any images, that I had not even got my camera out of its bag. I lit a smoke – to make me strong – and consoled myself in the knowledge that I have never really considered myself an ‘action’ photographer.
Just then Prince Uncharming began to make movements suggesting he was going to rise from his seated trans-like state. In seconds I was upright with camera in hand. I stood a few metres behind him and checked my exposure settings. He slowly rose to his feet and steadied himself in what was clearly a literal rush of blood to the head. It was now my turn to choose a point, take aim and shoot at the neck… And head and shoulders.