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Faces of Africa > Program Video

Faces of Africa 11/06/2016 Female wrestlers of Senegal part 1

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11-06-2016 18:15 BJT

What football is to Europe, so is traditional wrestling is to the West African country, Senegal. “It is a sport we know and love doing, both women and men play wrestling,” told Bala Gaye – wrestling champion.

Female wrestlers from Mlomp in Casamance, Senegal, reign in championship tournaments same as the male wrestlers. This traditional sport has been passed on from generation to generation. Traditional wrestling is among the best-supported sports in Senegal, rivalling football in popularity.

 Isabel Sambou, a wrestling champion from Senegal tying down a Tunisian opponent during a competition match.

Isabel Sambou, a wrestling champion from Senegal tying down a Tunisian opponent during a competition match.

“To us wrestling is like education.  It also allows people of the same generation to interact with each other. Girls start wrestling at an erarly age, as the same time as boys,” told King Sibilou Diediou. For centuries female wrestlers in Senegal have competed in seasonal wrestling matches as a way to help create good fortune for the annual rice crop. Hence female wrestling forms part of the celebrations for the rice fields’ festival.

“In Mlomp, we have two seasons, play season and work season,” told Evelyn – Wrestling champion.

One of Senegal's female champions, Isabel Sambou competed in traditional wrestling, which emphasizes on takedowns.

Nicholai Minchek, female wrestlers

Nicholai Minchek, female wrestlers' coach in Senegal, showing different tactics in wrestling.

“I started wrestling as a cultural practice. As children we would pick opponents and wrestle each other. I used to wrestle with a lot of passion and my brothers noticed my talent. They knew that if I got proper training I would excel,” recalled the champion.

When Lassana a prominent coach who was scouting for wrestlers, saw her obvious talent, he suggested she moved to Thies, a city in the northern part of the country, to train in freestyle, the discipline women compete in at the Olympics.

Evelyn Diatta (first in view) is a wrestling champion. In 2011 she took over coaching. Here she

Evelyn Diatta (first in view) is a wrestling champion. In 2011 she took over coaching. Here she's training young aspiring wrestlers.

“When I came to Thies, I saw women wrestling and that encouraged me a lot!” Isabel recalled.

In 2011, Everlyn Diatta was named Senegal’s female wrestlers national coach.  

“Wrestling has given me the opportunity to visit the world and know people. I have won three gold medals, two silver and two bronze and today I am ready to give back to Casamance,” told Everlyn.

Young girls wrestling while their coach Evelyn looks on. Female wrestling is a tradition that has been preserved in Senegal Casamance

Young girls wrestling while their coach Evelyn looks on. Female wrestling is a tradition that has been preserved in Senegal Casamance's region generation after generation.

But the journey has not been easy for the two female champions. Along the way they have faced discrimination from people who say wrestling is meant for men not women.

“Some people are ashamed of women wrestling. They think that wrestling is a masculine sport but we the people of Casamance are not ashamed of wrestling because our grandparents told us that in their days women used to wrestle,” told Evelyn Diatta.

Isabel and Evelyn are doing their part in bringing pride to their beloved country and promoting their traditional sport, one of its kind. They are pleased to pass on to the younger generations what their forefathers preserved for them.

 Isabel Sambou showing off her country

Isabel Sambou showing off her country's flag after she won the regional tournament.

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