If you go to Senegal you will certainly come across the sport known as Laamb. This is the traditional form of wrestling originally performed by the Serer people and is now a national sport in Senegal & parts of the Gambia.
Its roots come from the wrestling tradition of the Serer people and was used as a preparation ritual for war among the warrior class. Today the sport is practiced by both men & women from all tribes in Senegal and enjoys patronage from both domestic and international sponsors.
A contest between two men dressed in loincloths and decked in talismans. The winner is whoever puts his opponent on the ground, whether on his back, rear, stomach, or a combination of hands and knees. It is an old sport, fought in the sand, steeped in deep, village traditions. But in the last decade, this pastime has evolved into an outsized spectacle, widely televised; its champions have become wealthy celebrities with a greater claim on people’s hearts than any president or businessman. Professional wrestler can earn hundreds to thousands of dollars in endorsements, according to the local news media.
During the ceremony, the wrestler, accompanied by drummers and singers, dances around the arena; around his arms, legs, and waist are various kinds of amulets the purpose of which is to give him luck and also protect him against the charms of his opponent.
Today, the combination of legend, money and mysticism has made laamb a cradle for heroes and the ambition of every boy in Senegal.it used to be practised in the countryside at the end of the harvest, amongst the Serer and Diola ethnic groups. Wrestlers face up to each other, and the winner is the one who causes his adversary to fall to the ground first. This jousting battle used to be a means of measuring the strength of men, to determine the champion of each village.
It was practiced to rejoice, perpetuate cultural folklore, and to designate the strongest man of the village who will become the champion wrestler until the next year.
During French colonization of Senegal, these fights continued to take place in the bush, without the occupiers really knowing much about them. However it was a Frenchman who organized the first official fights in the 1920’s in his cinema El Malik in the capital, Dakar. The wrestlers were paid thanks to ticket sales. It was around this time that a form of the sport began in which wrestlers could also hit their opponents (wrestling with strikes). After independence, this form of the sport slowly became professional and took hold in towns and cities.
Why Laamb is really fascinating is that it is further evidence of a growing trend on the continent where we are beginning to look within ourselves, embrace some of our unique cultures and find ways to grow them locally and then internationally. It is Africans refusing the rhetoric that arts and culture on the continent never existed before colonialism, that the most interesting thing about our countries is colonial history and post-colonial struggles and that the only good things to be found in our countries are those we got from the West. There is a cultural revolution taking over the continent – one that has started with music and literature and is spreading into even more aspects of our cultural heritage. We need to realize that even across the different African countries, people hunger to know more about other African countries. My education system taught me little other than we had some kingdoms, then we enslaved each other, then Arabs and the West came and took slavery to another level, then colonialism happened, we put up a good fight (The Battle of Adowa, Mau Mau rebellion, and so many other not so successful rebellions including using some magical potions that were to ward off bullets (Maji Maji rebellion). After that the colonial powers left us to our own defenses and we made a mess out of everything – descending into war, famine, disease etc. The West then came back to save us in various forms and anything good or interesting taking place on the continent right now is because of the benevolence of the West.
We as Africans need to change this rhetoric – and what better way to do that than owning and embracing our unique cultures, discovering them and monetising them (Laamb attracts numerous corporate sponsors, but has still managed to remain authentic.)