Senegalese Wrestling


Photo source by: Georges Merillo

Article written by: David Kipper 

lutte sénégalaise


Sure, the UFC has McGregor and Khabib, but Senegalise wrestling, or Laamb as it is known in this West African nation, has Zoss and Bombadier.

     At first glance lutte sénégalaise looks like a good quality schoolyard throwdown. Two loincloth clad fighters square off on the sandy ground and throw punches. They clinch. One shoots for a single leg but the other moves around to his back and, hands about the waist, throws him. The victor reaches down to offer a hand up but the defeated is inconsolable. The fight meant too much. You see, wrestling in the country of Senegal means much, perhaps sadly, too much. In a country where most young people cannot find full-time work and nearly half the people live in poverty, wrestling is an avenue to security.  One fighter described wrestling, “as a quick way to make money.”

     Laamb has as its roots the traditions of the Serer people. In the past, as with many grappling traditions throughout the world, wrestling served as a way for young men to prepare for war, or a way for them to come of age and so cross over the line to adulthood and assume an integral role in the community. Now, wrestling is big business complete with corporate-sponsored arena promotions. Boys and young men train hard in the hope of sponsorship and a chance at celebrity. Popular wrestlers have legions of fans who, like soccer hooligans, aren’t shy to show their support with acts of violence.

     Although the cultural implications are fascinating, the rules are simple. One athlete tries to put his opponent flat on his back, or else cause him to hit the ground with all four limbs, or to force him out of the sandy contest area. There are two main styles of Senegalese wrestling. In Lutte avec frappe athletes can strike with hands. Strikes are used to close the distance and set up the clinch. As the name implies, in Lutte sans frappe, athletes cannot strike.

     To many Senegalese grapplers lutte sénégalaise is a bridge from the past to the future. It connects the folklore and mysticism of the Serer people to Senegal’s hope for a better future. It’s a modern example of a martial art lifting people up through the practice of throwing them down.

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