A woman helps young men cover themselves with talcum powder as they prepare for wrestling matches during the yearly evala festival in the town of Houde, northern Togo, on Thursday July 12, 2007. The powder, fighters say, makes it more difficult for their opponent to get a firm grasp.
During the week-long tourney, young men wrestle against peers from their own and other villages. The evala festival is not only a sporting event, but also part of the rites of passage young men from the KabyŽ ethnic group will complete as they become full-grown men. The fighters, called evalo, will wrestle on three consecutive years to show their strength and their worth as they become full members of the community.
Wrestlers cover themselves with talcum powder to allegedly make it more difficult for their opponent to get a firm grasp. Rubbing hands with dirt is also a popular technique which many believe helps counter the slippery effect of talcum powder. On the eve of the first day of fighting, the father of each evalo will buy a dog for his son to eat. It is believed that the meat of the animal will endow the young man with the strength and courage characteristic to the animal.
While the wrestling is reserved to young men in their early to mid-twenties, younger boys also take part in unofficial matches as they prepare to become the next evalo. Even though supporters often become infuriated when their fighter is denied the victory they think he deserves, the outcome of the wrestling matches has little importance. Winners celebrate alongside those who are defeated and more than anything else, the evala festival is a social gathering where KabyŽs come to meet each other. Many KabyŽs in the diaspora even come home to attend the event.
The first day of fighting pits evalos from two halves of a same village against each other. On the next day, fighters from an entire village wrestle against their peers from a neighbor settlement before joining them and facing together a similar gr