Last week, my village hosted a traditional wrestling match, or lambo. Everyone was talking about it because not much happens in the village besides soccer matches, public info meetings (usually health topics), and occassional soiree, or obnoxioulsy loud awkward dance parties at the elemantary school. Even more exciting for me, this was something REALLY Senegales and authentic, maybe.
The team of wrestlers and griots (traditional praise-singers and drummers) arrived Friday night and there was much commotion about where to house them and what to feed them. Event planning on the village level is largely adhoc.
The actual match took place the next night. everyone said it would start sometime in the afternoon or evening, but i'm finally catching on to Senegalese lingo - that means sometime after dinner, maybe 10pm-ish. After a long day of working in the garden, I was sweaty and tired but determined to stay by and go to the wrestling match. Unfortunately, dinner was late, 10:30 late, and it was rice and oil... still haven't figured out how it takes 4 hours to cook rice and oil, but that's another story. Now we just had to wait for the wrestlers to eat. After another hour, the griots started up the drums and paraded to the arena that had been squared off with a straw fence. At this point women and children headed over to cheering and dancing to the drums for about an hour. I was already fading fast and just waiting to see what actually happens in wrestling matches.
Finally sometime after midnight, Cherifou and Issaga cleared out the arena and starting charging people admission: only 75 cents but most younger people couldn't afford to pay. The arena filled up with older people while everyone else crowded around just outside the fence trying to peek in. The drummers kept up the beat; the wrestlers arrived and started to warm up and dance, slowing stripping down into these short, wrapper skirts covered in pompoms and tassles.There was a whistle, but it was blown in random accompaniment to the drums and had nothing to do with match.
Suddenly (or at least it seemed sudden to me after hours of little excitement and much anticipation), two wrestlers singled each other out, crouched down, and started to fight. Others (there were about 10 in all), paired off too. It was really hard to understand what the rules were because it was so late and dark - everything was backlit from the tire fire burning in the corner and the black smoke blotting out the moon. I tried to ask my mom about what was going on but her explanations were drowned out by the incessant drumming and whistling.
There was a referee who would declare the winner of each round of wrestling; there were 3 rounds to each match. Then the winner would walk off and dance to the drums for the crowd. The crowd responded by throwing money and water at the wrestlers. Then he'd go off to find another man to wrestle. There were always at least two pairs of wrestlers fighting, which made matches extremely difficult to follow. Basically, the men pushed back and forth until someone fell to the ground or their knees touched the ground and they lost the round.
This went on for hours, but I was done by 2am. After a couple matches and the same incessant drum beat, it got kind of monotonous. The scores were tallied up somehow or other and all the little boys were telling me they were such and such a wrestler the next morning. The fighting went on until 4 in the morning but all the women were still up at 6 to start the morning chores before heading out to theier gardens. Everyone else just kind of lazed around all day and the work activities sputtered. The same thing happened all over again Sunday night and went until early morning, although once again I was assured that the events would take place in the afternoon. I opted not to go this time though.
The wrestlers and griots packed up Monday morning and left as they came - stuffed into a van with the drummers up on the roof still drumming away. Glad to have seen the lambo, but I think I'm satiated.