Senegal’s wrestlers ready for combat after year-long wait


By Agency

A Senegalese wrestler ties a cloth as he prepares to start training in Petit Mbao, Dakar. Photos: AFP

Ten burly Senegalese wrestlers raise a chant, singing “Mother, pray for us”, while jogging up and down a sandy field by the Atlantic Ocean.

Training has resumed after a year of coronavirus-related restrictions that had stopped them from practising their sport.

Wrestling in the West African nation is a centuries-old tradition rooted in harvest festivals, and draws a fanatical following.

Hulking fighters dressed in loincloths face off in packed stadiums, performing mystic rituals in the sand before going toe-to-toe.

Early April, the first major bout since the start of the pandemic took place in a 20,000-seater stadium just outside of Dakar.A Senegalese wrestler ties a cloth as he prepares to start training in Petit Mbao, Dakar. A Senegalese wrestler ties a cloth as he prepares to start training in Petit Mbao, Dakar.

“The fight was of huge importance to me, ” said Eumeu Sene, 42, one of the men training in the suburb of Dakar.

Gaston Mbengue, the fight promoter, told AFP that there had not been a clash of this level “for years”.

Such fights can grind daily life to a halt, with many people glued to television sets to watch wrestlers spar and attempt to throw each other to the ground.

But Senegal’s fans have been deprived of the spectacle since the onset of the pandemic last year, when the government banned wrestling matches and training sessions in professional stables.

After nationwide unrest, Senegal lifted health restrictions this month, allowing the sport to resume.

At the training session in the Dakar suburb of Petit Mbao, barrel- chested fighters grapple with each other until a call to prayer interrupts them.Professional Senegalese wrestler, Moussa Diop (left), working out in a gym that is specially opened for him, his training partner and coach in Dakar.Professional Senegalese wrestler, Moussa Diop (left), working out in a gym that is specially opened for him, his training partner and coach in Dakar.

Sene, whose real name is Mamadou Ngom, won the prestigious King of the Arenas title in 2018 but lost it the following year.

Like Sene, many wrestlers go by evocative nicknames, such as “John Cena”, after the American professional wrestler, or simply, “Building”.

Mystical rituals

Khalifa Ababacar Niang, the head of the wrestling stable that includes Sene, said that few are allowed to approach wrestlers ahead of bouts, for fear of black magic.

“We are very careful about strangers, ” he explained, adding that some spells can render fighters lazy or dizzy.As Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted, wrestlers now start preparing themselves for the start of wrestling tournaments. As Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted, wrestlers now start preparing themselves for the start of wrestling tournaments.

Niang underlined that allowing AFP to interview his prize fighter was a rare privilege.

Mysticism plays an important role in traditional wrestling in Senegal.

Fighters sport magical charms known as “gris-gris” (pronounced “gree-gree”) wrapped around their waist, wrist or biceps.

They coat their bodies in a liquid deemed to be imbued with magical properties and then face off in the arena, serenaded by “griot” singers.

With the return of the season, many wrestlers in this poor nation of 16 million people are hoping for a boost to their incomes.

Coronavirus restrictions put some 8,000 professional fighters out of a job, according to Senegal’s national wrestling association.

Wrestler Ngarafe Ndiaye, 22, said he started selling telephones during the pandemic.

Nicknamed “Sadio’s Son”, Ndiaye added that he hopes to make a full-time living from wrestling one day.

“Right now, I need another job to get by, ” he said. – AFP Relaxnews

Article type: metered
User Type: anonymous web
User Status:
Campaign ID: 46
Cxense type: free
User access status: 3
   

Next In People

Miami women surprise homeless teen with magical quinceanera
Dallas lawyer takes up mission to help people avoid eviction
This American third-grader holds food drives to help those in need
Heart and Soul: Interpreter was the bridge between Buddhist masters and community
Malaysian B40 bakers earn extra money for Hari Raya through Cookies For A Cause
British-Norwegian couple offers shelter to migrants on Canary Islands
70-year-old Englishwoman wages war on plastic waste on Cornwall's beaches
Sweden's only female oyster diver finds calm at sea
US town lets people pay for meals in advance for the needy
This Malaysian offers relief to the underprivileged through food bank

Stories You'll Enjoy


Vouchers