Wrestling has been around for many centuries, originating in ancient Greece and spreading to India, China, Japan, Africa and the Middle East. But despite knowing so little about its origins or how it spread across continents, one thing is for sure – it is probably the most practiced form of grappling across the world.
Such a type of wrestling is Senegalese wrestling (Laamb in Wolof) – one of the oldest sports in existence. In this fight, the onlookers watch in anticipation as two burly men battle it out.
The stakes are high, and victory will be rewarded with cash prizes for those who succeed. The sport is more prevalent in comparison to football, and participants can earn over $100,000 or even livestock if they win a match.
Laamb is about an opportunity that anyone can achieve: being plucked from obscurity and put onto a platform where they can become nationally recognized heroes.
The sport is inviting, and the best part is that anyone could enter this competition, despite the age and gender. Anyone with a strong heart was invited.
The history and tradition of Senegalese wrestling is a deeply rooted part that dates back to ancient times. The ancient art of this wrestling is a type of folk sport traditionally performed by Serers and now widely practiced throughout Senegal.
This form allows blows with the hands, which makes it unique among West African traditions that utilize physical contact for competition or training purposes.
Origin of Senegalese Wrestling
There are many theories on how Senegalese Wrestling originated, but scholars agree that it has been practiced for centuries by the Serer people in villages in Senegal. It is typically a very entertaining game and may be seen as a significant contribution to African Culture.
Some historians believe that wrestling was created during the time of conflict between different tribes within Senegal. Others believe it may have come from ritual ceremonies where opponents would wrestle for kingship.
Whatever the reasoning behind its creation, it has become Africa’s most popular sport.
Senegalese wrestling, or Lutte Traditionnelle as it is known locally, has its roots in Senegal and Gambia. It was initially practiced as a way to prepare young boys for war and, as such, was mastered by those who had the best fighting skills.
Being strong also served to protect members of the community from wild animals, and as such, its practice created a unique culture and tradition in these regions.
Senegalese Wrestling is often considered to be a metaphor for life, with participants learning important life lessons such as how to handle defeat and how to fight in difficult situations.
Wrestling is still practiced by men in some rural villages, but the rules are different from the ones used nationally. They are also more brutal, with fights lasting until one of the competitors submits or dies – something that is thankfully prohibited nowadays.
Today, Senegalese wrestling is still very popular and considered an essential part of the country’s culture. Competitions take place throughout the year and attract participants from all over Africa.
The most prestigious event is the Festival International de Lutte Traditionnelle in Dakar, which is hosted by the president of Senegal himself. Wrestlers come from all over the world to compete, and the event is televised nationally, adding to its prestige.
Rules of Senegalese Wrestling
On the surface, Laamb is a simple game of conquest. It features two competitors who attempt to flip each other over onto their backs by using Greco-Roman wrestling techniques.
However, there are two variations on this theme – one where fighters cannot use any hands (local village fights;) another which allows jabs and punches during fights. The second variation is usually only for large stadium matches.
Basically one variation allows striking and will focus more on knocking out the opponent whereas the 2nd version does not allow striking and has much more of a wrestling emphasis with high amplitude throws and emphasis on pinning an opponent’s back on the ground. Out of the 2, Senegalese Wrestling with punching allowed is more popular to watch.
Senegalese wrestling matches take part in a ring that is surrounded by a circle of sandbags. Senegalese wrestlers have to fight bare knuckle and matches generally last 2 rounds of 10 minutes. Matches are generally fought on the weekend (Saturday and Sunday).
Matches generally take place in a stadium. Dempe Diop Stadium (Stade Dembe Diop) in Dakar is a very common place for matches to take place. The biggest Senegalese wrestling matches and competitions generally take place in Leopold Sedar Senghor stadium in Dakar which can hold up to 60,000 fans.
A match can be won by a few methods, if you knock out your opponent, if the opponent’s buttcheeks, back or head hit the ground or out of the wrestling circle and if both the opponent’s knees and hands touch the ground at the same time.
Punches to the face and body are fully allowed, throwing an opponent is fully allowed, punches from the clinch and on the ground are allowed.
The combination of spiritual pre-fight rituals is what sets Laamb apart from other fighting organizations. Wrestlers have a rigorous physical training regimen for up to four months prior to their fights.
But besides that, they also prepare themselves with spiritually-based exercises. It includes rituals as it is believed that a huge part of their battles takes place in the spiritual realm.
The Role of Mysticism in Senegalese Wrestling
Marabouts play a huge role in this as well. In Senegal, marabouts are spiritual guides who step in to provide protection for wrestlers during matches. These Muslim holy men are important members of the Sufi tradition recognized among Senegalese Muslim citizens.
While strength and skill are necessary to be a successful fighter, no wrestler would fight without spiritual protection. They go to marabouts before the match, who give them liquids blessed by them for protection against negative spirits.
On the day of the match, the wrestlers enter with their coaches, team members as well as marabouts who provide them “Gris Gris.” These are amulets with verses from the Qur’an inscribed on them and containing ritual objects for protection during these matches.
The spiritual guides also pour the blessed liquids over the fighters before the match. The wrestlers would then walk around during a processional of drums, dances and ‘bakks’ which is an oral art performance. The bakks would boast about them to instill fear in their opponents with this intimidating sound.
How a Traditional Sport is Transitioning to Modern Settings
Senegalese wrestling has been around for over centuries, and it’s now attracting more attention with each passing generation. It is fought in sand, like many African sports related to religion. That said, this one is very unique because they incorporate elaborate rituals that are similar in nature to voodoo.
The sport has achieved both commercial success and international popularity in recent years. It has become a favorite pastime of the country’s upper class, and it has also attracted viewers from around the world thanks to widespread internet coverage.
However, in order to keep its modern appeal alive, Senegalese wrestling has had to make several adjustments. The most famous wrestlers are now celebrities, and the sport itself has grown increasingly commercialized.
This has led to some tension between traditionalists who want the sport to remain true to its roots and those who feel that modernization is necessary for its survival.
Despite these challenges, Senegalese wrestling is still going strong. The country’s wrestlers have achieved great success in international competitions, and the sport continues to draw large crowds. This demonstrates the resilience of the sport and its importance to the Senegalese people.
Today, wrestling is seen as a source of Senegal’s pride. It remains a sport of great national value, and the Senegalese people are determined to keep it alive.
Why is Wrestling so Popular in Senegal?
Football is king in most parts of Africa. However, in Senegal, wrestling is a sport that takes up much-needed time for entertainment and exercise. It challenges football for popularity.
Senegalese Wrestling provides opportunities to young men who wish they could be famous and financially successful without working hard at anything else all day long.
The athletes train for years to get good enough to make money from the sport. They must maintain their bodies so that they look the part and learn how to entertain the crowds.
Gris Bordeaux is one of the most successful professional wrestlers in Senegal. He also teaches at a school for aspiring fighters, where he coaches them to become great like himself.
According to him, success in wrestling comes not just from the physical side of things but also from mental preparation and dedication. He also stressed how important it was to have a good trainer with the perfect combination of friendliness and discipline.
Some Famous Senegalese Wrestlers
Senegal’s traditional wrestling has been a prominent spectator sport and cultural event in West Africa since the 1950s. It is a cornerstone of Senegalese culture, and the country’s wrestlers are some of the best in the world.
The champions of these events are Senegal celebrities, such as Tyson Mohamed Ndao, Balla Gaye 2, Omar “Reug Reug” Kane, Bombardier Serigne Ousmane Dia, and Yekini Yakhya Diop, among others.
These fighters have become famous throughout Senegal for their ability to win matches against others with different styles. They also maintain an exciting fight that captivates audiences everywhere they go.
Senegalese Wrestling and MMA
There is no doubt that there is a strong resemblance between Senegalese Wrestling and MMA as Senegalese Wrestling matches are full of punching, throwing and action, much like modern Mixed Martial Arts.
The main differences between Senegalese Wrestling and MMA is that there are no submissions, no kicks, no use of gloves and no ring or cage that fighters fight within. Another difference is the fact that MMA matches forbid grabbing of clothing whereas Senegalese Wrestling fully allows grabbing of the belt in order to control the opponent.
In recent years there has been a former Senegalese Wrestling champion who made the crossover into Modern MMA, the fighter being Omar “Reug Reug” Kane. Reug Reug signed with one of the premier MMA organizations in the world, ONE FC, which is a top level Asian facing Mixed Martial Arts competition.
Omar Kane has been a force to reckon with in the MMA ring, having beaten some extremely tough MMA fighters already and Omar Kane has amassed an MMA record of 3-1 so far with a bright future ahead of him. Reug Reug has used the techniques of Senegalese Wrestling to defeat his opponents and is truly a feared competitor in ONE FC.
We can definitely expect more Senegalese Wrestlers to make the transition to MMA in the future as they have the wrestling ability, physical toughness, lack of fear, aggressiveness and strength to go far in Mixed Martial Arts competition.
The Bottom Line
So, what makes Senegalese wrestling so special? Well, it is a combination of many things. Firstly, it is a very physical and demanding sport that requires incredible strength, agility and stamina.
Secondly, the culture surrounding it is unique and provides a sense of identity for those who practice it. Finally, the competitions are highly entertaining to watch and always draw a large crowd.
This traditional form of wrestling is a very important part of Senegalese culture. It is often used to settle disputes and can be quite dangerous, as the wrestlers use all of their strength to win.
The matches are usually quite short, lasting just a few minutes. This is because there are no rounds – the match ends when one of the wrestlers has been forced to admit defeat or is unable to continue.
All in all, whether you are a fan of wrestling or not, we’re pretty sure you will appreciate the skill and athleticism on display at a Senegalese wrestling competition.