Senegalese wrestling: an ancient sport and modern day spectacle

Every Sunday at the Adrien Senghor Wrestling Stadium in Dakar, there is a knockout wrestling tournament with a grand prize that amounts to around a year’s average wages.

In a country where half of the population live on less than $2 a day, wrestling is becoming a golden ticket for young men to earn money quickly in order to support their families.

WHAT IS SENEGALESE WRESTLING?

The aim of Senegalese wrestling is to get the opponent either on his back or on all fours. Bare knuckle punching to the opponent’s face and body is also allowed at higher levels.

In an interview conducted by journalist Seyi Rhodes for Unreported World, 24-year-old part time wrestler Sadio Sissoko explains “wrestling is part of our culture. If you’re born in Senegal, you either learn wrestling or football. You choose one. I come from an area where everybody loves wrestling.”

HOW POPULAR IS THE SPORT?

Siteu is one of the most prominent Senegalese wrestlers and a national celebrity, who originally comes from the poorest suburb in Dakar: “wrestling is about fate, if God chooses you, you have to do it. Even I worked as a tailor for 10 years, but now thanks to wrestling I no longer have to.”

The more fans in the stadium and watching on TV, the more money the sport makes. Singers, TV stars and politicians attend Siteu’s fights, with his popularity landing him a sponsorship with American fruit company Del Monte.

Adama Lo, Del Monte’s marketing manager, says: “wrestling is our national sport. It’s a real pleasure for us to support people like [Siteu]. It’s also a way of participating in the development of the country.”

HOW DOES SENEGALESE WRESTLING MIX MODERNITY AND TRADITION?

The sport of Senegalese wrestling has been around for centuries. It’s fought in sand and involves elaborate rituals similar to voodoo.

Sadio explains “wrestling brings the spirits out. If you’re a wrestler, you need to say a lot of prayers to ask the spirits to be with you and protect you. The rituals our ancestors left behind are still here and we still practise them. And when we are gone our children will do the same, until the end of time.”

Siteu spends the equivalent of $13,000 on pre-fight rituals. These include walking on a white carpet and sprinkling it with sand that he brings to fights from near his home.

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE OF SENEGALESE WRESTLING LOOK LIKE?

The future of Senegalese wrestling looks even brighter. Malik Thiandoum, Senegal’s most famous wrestling commentator, explains: “we’ve already started exporting wrestling to Paris. There are even Europeans who’ve started to come here to wrestle”.

With wrestling academies popping up and a $50 million stadium being built, the sport is set to become even more popular.

KATIE WILSON

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