“Mum, pray for us”: on a sandy ground in the suburbs of Dakar, ten strong trot sing the song in Wolof which marks the start of training… After a year of hiatus due to the coronavirus, the wrestlers Senegalese prepare to return to combat.
Senegalese wrestling, whose origins date back to the ceremonies celebrating the end of harvests among the Serer and Diola ethnic groups, is extremely popular in this West African country. Life practically stops during major confrontations, announced weeks in advance by posters and commercials.
And when a fighter, the loincloth around the waist, knocks down his opponent, the cries of the supporters riveted to their television sets rise from the houses, as during the matches of the national football team, perhaps alone. to compete with the kings of the arena in the hearts of the Senegalese.
Return to the Pikine Arena
The arrival of Covid-19 a year ago brought professional practice to a halt: no more fights or collective training. But all this is in the past: under the effect of a serious political crisis, the main restrictions were lifted in mid-March and the competitions are resuming.
This Sunday, some of the most adored colossi will return to the Pikine National Arena, the temple of discipline, about ten kilometers from the center of Dakar. With a capacity of 20,000 spectators, the enclosure should only accommodate half of them.
The most anticipated of the five fights on the bill will pit two stars: “Eumeu Sène” and “Lac 2”. It is a shock like “there has not been for years” and which “will give courage to the Senegalese”, asserts the star promoter, Gaston Mbengue.
A few days before the deadline, in Petit-Mbao, in the outskirts of the capital, Emeu Sène (Mamadou Ngom of his real name) is training by the ocean with wrestlers who, like him, are known by their evocative nicknames: “John Cena”, “Tyson 2” or “Building”.
Torso and bare hands, they grab hold of each other, push each other and try to fall into the sand, until the call to prayer suddenly interrupts the session. At 42 years old and with a weight of 120 kg, Eumeu Sène dreams of regaining the prestigious title of “King of the arenas” which he had conquered in 2018 and lost the following year. A Sunday win against Lake 2 would give him his chances of reclaiming his throne in a year or two. “This fight is of the utmost importance to me. My career depends on it, I must not lose it, ”he told AFP.
To defeat your adversary, “mystical preparation” is of capital importance, underline amateurs and specialists. To avoid “maraboutage” (bad luck), practically no one can approach Eumeu Sene in the days preceding the fight.
“We are very careful with foreigners,” explains Khalifa Ababacar Niang, the boss of the Tayshinger team, which has Eumeu Sene in its ranks. “No matter how much we practice, we can do things to you that make you lazy, that break your desire or make you dizzy,” adds Khalifa Ababacar Niang.
In the stadium, before grappling, the combatants, carried along by the songs of the griots, follow a long and meticulous ritual, during which they coat their bodies entirely with “magic liquid”. They tied essential charms at their waist, around the wrists and biceps or ankles.
The wrestling industry is hoping that the resumption of fighting will definitely turn the page of the 2020 “white season”, during which the 8,000 affiliates of the National Wrestling Association had to find other sources of income.
Young 22-year-old prospect with dyed blond hair, Ngarafe Ndiaye, nicknamed the “Son of Sadio” or “the kid”, has started selling phones since the start of the pandemic. He hopes that one day he will make a living from the struggle. “But currently, I need another job to get by.”