African Traditional Wrestling – A Sport That Is Being Modernized Slowly

The African Traditional Wrestling Ring

From one of the earliest African Novels particularly from Nigeria, wrestling has been mentioned as having entertained not only one village but many villages including those from neighbouring chiefdoms. Today, African traditional wrestling as a sport is being modernized slowly, and this is promoting African Sports Tourism.
There is just one thing about wrestling both to the participant as well as to the onlooker. It is the joy that springs from winning a wrestling match.


After people have harvested their crops and put them in their bans, many villagers have little to do and so this period is referred to as Play Season. The inland villages would gather at the village playground and start practising wrestling in order to defeat the next or nearby village contestants.


The coastal villages are lucky to use the sand beaches and gather there to practice wrestling. For them, what used to be a pastime for fishermen but later turned out to generate interest among all the village inhabitants regardless of one’s occupation.


It is this kind of practising that generates interest among children, youths and the elderly. There are family names that are associated with wrestling championship for a number of generations and such contestants prove difficult to defeat.


From the ancient past in West Africa, winning the championship of a wrestling match in a village or further than that has brought about instant success and fame. Songs would be sung in your favour in every village near and far. People start presenting you with unsolicited gifts in small or big sizes. Sometimes even a live chicken or a goat can be presented to you by your fans. You even get invited to eat with kings. Such gestures from fellow villagers make others look at you with envy because of the attention you are receiving.


Due to fame that comes instantly by winning the wrestling championship, every guy in the village would like to be the next
champion. For this reason, many continue to practice both publicly and privately long after the play Season has passed.
The current champion does not become complacent since he would like to continue receiving the attention from every villager or the even king himself. His would-be opponent trains even harder because of the many benefits that come with winning the championship.


In Senegal, traditional wrestling has been referred to as LAAM. Surprisingly, even women are allowed in certain regions because their ancestors embraced women’s wrestlers and showered them with similar attention accorded to their male counterparts.

African Traditional Wrestling – Senegal


For Senegalese, Mlomp Village has outshone all the other villages in the country by producing women national champions for a number of years. Wrestling is in their blood as they claim to have inherited the art of fierceness in the wrestling ring from their ancestors who were good at being renowned for championships year in and year out.


Fans or supporters play a very vital role in the motivation of a champion wrestler. As mentioned earlier, wrestling champions receive all kinds of gifts from their fans. The fan would approach the champion and promise him with whatever gift if he does not lose the championship in a forthcoming match. For this reason, the champion goes a mile further in training, not for self-motivation, but not to disappoint the fan who has pleaded with him.
Now it happens that many fans make similar promises and so the champion would not like to disappoint any of them and so trains much harder.


While many wrestlers have what it takes to win the championship, many of them feel intimidated by charm keepers who entice them to go with some form of protection in the ring so that they are not threatened in any way by their opponents. Some charm keepers encourage the wrestlers to move into the ring with charms made from hyenas’ teeth so that their bones can be as strong as the hyenas’ bones.


Other charm makers entice wrestlers to have charms made from a black mamba’s skin so that they would be able to raise their bodies above the ground each time they get attacked by their opponents.


Other charm makers would make concoctions from the monkey’s head so that the wrestlers would easily jump onto his opponent’s body with the agility of the monkey.


This is the most popular among the wrestlers as almost every wrestler desires to be as bold as a lion inside the wrestling ring. Any charm made from the paw of a lion or face of the lion would be on high demand from every wrestler in a village.


Other wrestlers are advised to spend the night before wrestling on the tomb of a former champion to ward off fear and have confidence that the spirit of the departed ancestor would help him win the championship.


Discipline is cardinal in achieving the goals of the championship. Whether one is being helped by whatever spirit, the wrestler should not sleep with a girl on the night before the wrestling match. It was common for the opponents’ camp to send a woman to entice the champion or would-be champion to spend the night with her. For the wrestlers, such a move was a suicidal one and according to fables, no wrestler who had spent a night with a woman won any championship. Discipline was important in this area.


Traditional wrestling is slowly being modernized with the introduction of Commonwealth or The Olympics which require active sports competitions among African Countries before qualifying for intercontinental games.
Wrestling has not been left out in this area and so traditional wrestlers are encouraged to take part. As they do so, they are camped in modern buildings under a technical wrestling coach who has been brought into the country as a foreigner with special expertise.


Traditional wrestlers tend to do very well in both continental and inter-continental wrestling bouts because of having practised the sport from a tender age. That is why it is not surprising at all when you see such wrestlers coming out of the competitions with gold, silver and bronze medals. In this way, they put their countries in the limelight on the international scene. This time, the traditional wrestlers’ fame grows wider and they now benefit by visiting foreign countries far from their homes.


Everyone should have a sense of gratitude to the birth of traditional wrestling and be proud of the wonderful results the sport has brought about to the village, country and the continent of Africa at large.

2 thoughts on “African Traditional Wrestling – A Sport That Is Being Modernized Slowly”

  1. Wrestling has been a common sport in different cultures in Africa for ages.
    However, I have noticed that the Senegalese give it more hype and importance.
    If this sport is publicized more, it can get the appeal that the World wrestling entertainment has, especially in Africa.
    Nice article and I look forward to reading more of these.

    1. It is estimated that World Wrestling Entertainment, popularly known for professional wrestling, generated an estimated $930million in 2018 though it is known that WWE is engaged in other fields like football and movies.
      With more publicity and sponsorship of African traditional wrestling, it can too generate more revenue and international appeal.
      Thank you, Patrick, for the comment.

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