A Wrestling Match in Guédiawaye, Senegal

18 April, 2015 by Mark Hann

The above video is an attempt to depict a Senegalese lamb (wrestling with punches) combat from the perspective of one of its protagonists, Modou Lô 2. The primary goal of making this video was to be able to give something back to Modou Lô 2 in return for his generosity in sharing his life with me. A secondary goal is to make visible some of the settings and processes of wrestling to those who may not be familiar with the sport.

Of course, it is a very incomplete picture – as an anthropologist attempting to film, there are many important parts of the preparation during which I am not present. These include for example the negotiations and contract signature between the promoter (who organizes the event at the stadium) and the manager (who represents the interests of the wrestler). There are also numerous moments during which I am present, but where it would not be appropriate to film – for instance when the wrestler gathers with his closest family members and friends to pray just before leaving the house. There were also occasions during which I managed to obtain footage, but deliberately chose not to include it in the film. An example of this would be Modou Lô 2’s consultation with his marabout (spiritual/mystical advisor), which, while perhaps fascinating for an anthropological audience, would not really be interesting or appropriate in the context of this film – which is primarily for the wrestler to show his family and friends.

As is apparent in the film, even the parts which I was able to include were not without difficulty. My own glaring lack of experience as a cameraman aside, there were numerous logistical and technical issues with filming in this particular setting. On the day of the fight, everything seems to happen so fast – the various rituals leading up to the event itself follow one another in quick succession, and it is a challenge to be in the right place at the right time, camera at the ready. My own presence as a Western anthropologist with an expensive camera is also a major challenge in filming, which took place in a fairly distant suburb on the outskirts of Dakar, where toubabs (white people) are a rarity. Many shots are rendered unusable by small children jumping in front of the camera, jumping on my back, even grabbing the camera out of my hand. On one occasion, I got too close to Modou Lô 2 while he bathed himself with one of his magical liquids, and it took a desperate manoeuvre to steer the camera to safety. Once we arrived at the stadium, there were further issues to contend with: I was not registered as part of the wrestler’s official entourage (which is limited to a certain number), so it took the intervention of Modou Lô 2’s mentor to grant me access to the ring.

Despite all of these challenges, I hope that I have managed to at least give an initial impression of what being a wrestler in urban Senegal means. It is first and foremost a physical activity which requires extensive and exhausting training. But it is also a practice steeped in religious and magical beliefs, which demands a significant spiritual and financial investment on the part of the wrestler. Some parts of the xarfafufa (the Wolof term for the mystical preparations made by wrestlers) are visible in the video: the plastic bottles filled with specially prepared potions poured before the fight, the various amulets, grisgris and other magical items which adorn the wrestler’s body, the alms given to local children before departing for the stadium. Finally, wrestling is a practice which is deeply embedded in social relations. Modou Lô’s eventual victory is not only a personal achievement, but brings glory to his friends, family and the entire neighbourhood, who – as seen in the video – come to his house to cheer him on with drumming and dancing before the fight. This social aspect is reinforced in the interview which Modou Lô 2 gives after his win (which I was unable to subtitle due to current technological limitations), during which he effusively thanks his friends, family and supporters – without whom he would be unable to succeed.

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