Originating in the countryside as a test of strength for farmers and fishermen, Senegalese wresting moved to the city with the migrants. It took on punching to become “La Lutte avec frappe”. It involves special charms, singers, drummers and excited crowds, with the champions now earning huge amounts of money.
Traditional wrestling, also known as “Laamb” in Wolof, is a centuries-old sport in Sénégal. In terms of form, it’s more usually compared to the Greco-Roman style of wrestling; however, it is very typical of traditional, African wrestling.
There are two forms of Laamb: the first allows the wrestlers to strike each other with their bare hands, which can be painful; the second is more acrobatic, and hitting is not permitted. When a wrestler’s back touches the ground, the bout is over; he has lost.
Laamb is as much a spiritual activity as it is physical; and wrestlers engage in various rites and rituals preparatory to fighting. No wrestler, regardless of his strength, physical, or technical abilities, will ever dare to enter the ring, much less fight, without his “marabout” or JuJu Man, or without participating in his own pre-match ceremony. During the ceremony, the wrestler, accompanied by drummers and singers, dances around the arena; around his arms, legs, and waist are various kinds of juju or amulets the purpose of which is to protect him against evil spirits and the witchcraft of other fighters. It is this aspect of the sport which elevates a wrestling match beyond the level of ordinary spectator sport. Many people attend as much for the enjoyment of the ceremony as for the sport.
In Crossing Continents David Goldblatt examines how wrestling has become Senegal’s most popular sport, deposing even football.
See it on BBC here.