In Senegal, the national sport is wrestling, called Burre in Wolof. More popular than even futbal (soccer), entire stadiums fill with tens of thousands of people to watch this traditional sport. You can’t grow up in Senegal and not love wrestling. It’s a huge part of the culture, with people cheering on their favorite fighters and excitement building for upcoming matches.
According to family lore, wrestling was once a way for boys to transition to manhood. As They hit a certain age, boys would challenge one another to a wrestling match. It was ceremonial, with women singing, musicians beating drums, and the wrestlers participating in pre-fight rituals. Family members would write down prayers on special cloths that were wrapped around their hoped victor. The defeated wrestler would continue training and challenge another opponent until they were declared a winner.
As the tradition became more popular, wrestling became an event. The strongest men turned into stars and began drawing in huge crowds of spectators.
Today, wrestling has become modern, but there are nods to tradition that still captivate Senegalese people and keep it a beloved sport. Even though wrestling is televised and the biggest champions have sponsors, the wrestlers still wear loincloths similar to sumo wrestlers, tribes and family members still wrap their loved one in prayers, women still sing and drummers still build excitement through their drumming. It’s a combination of modern and traditional that helps usher in a new era in the sport.
We love seeing something ancient and traditional evolve, yet still stay true to its cultural roots. It’s really the best of both worlds!Photo by Anthea Spivey