The Rise of Nuba Wrestling in Sudan

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February 6, 2015
Khartoum, Sudan

Nuba wrestling, a traditional sport practiced by tribes in the Nubian mountains, is gaining huge popularity throughout Sudan. The aim of the contest is to slam your opponent to the ground. Similar to sumo wrestling, there is no boxing system and any strikes are essentially part of the grappling.

Traditional wrestling is an integral part of life for tribal communities in Sudan. It is a chance to show your virility and strength. These forms of wrestling are known throughout the country and are now becoming increasingly popular in the capital Khartoum.

As Numeiry Koukou, a winning wrestler says, “There is no difference between the forms of wrestling practiced in Khartoum and those practiced in the mountains. The only difference is that [in the Nubian mountains] there are women who sing during the wrestling. You can find your siblings and uncles near you. Here, the audience replaces the singing women and your family. It supports you and makes you feel that you have to prove to them that you are a man.”

The Sudanese are hoping to export Nuba wrestling and claim to have participated in tournaments in Turkey, Japan, and Korea.

SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Man) Hamad Youssef, Wrestling Fan

“Sudanese wrestling is popular. It includes people from all races, like the national team. You will find people from all races – black, white, red, blue. Before, it was only practiced in the Nubian mountains, but it expanded to include the Hawazma and all the other tribes.”

“I used to wrestle when I was a young boy. Back then I used to herd cows at the edge of the mountains. But now I have grown older and one’s looks change at an old age. As the saying goes, “Only the palm trees in the valley die with their original color”. I have quit wrestling and become a wrestling fan. I am only a fan. I cannot take my clothes off to wrestle. When I take my clothes off it is only to take a bath.”

“Thanks be to God, I am a fan of wrestling. I hope that wrestling moves forward, develops, and become successful outside Sudan. Currently we have a national team at a training camp. You will watch it here in the next few days.”

SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Man) Numeiry Koukou, AKA Mudiriyyah (District), Winning Wrestler

“It is not necessary that a wrester always wins; sometimes he loses and sometimes he wins. You benefit from losing. You know your points of weakness. You cannot always be victorious. You would be happy if you won all the time, but if you lose you should not be upset, because you will benefit from losing and know your points of weakness. My nickname is Mudiriyyah (District), which belonged to my father before me. I was injured during an official game with the Lion Heart club and have recovered from injury. It was a tournament match.”

“Last week, my fitness was not very good. I thought about this and I insisted to come here and I said that I must win, in order to prove to my fans that I am here.”

“In the Nubian Mountains, we have forms of traditional wrestling that each tribe practices as a part of its own customs and religious rituals, such as the one practiced in the autumn. These forms of wrestling are talked about in all of Sudan. Even in peripheral areas and in Khartoum, they have all heard about this. There is no difference between the forms of wrestling practiced in Khartoum those practiced in the mountains. The only difference is that [in the Nubian mountains] there are women who sing during the wrestling. You can find your siblings and uncles near you. Here, the audience replaces the singing women and your family. It supports you and makes you feel that you have to prove to them that you are a man.”

SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Man) Adam Isshaq, Defeated Wrestler

“You cannot know who the winner is before the wrestling match is over. You cannot know whether you will beat this man or he will win over you. You can only know when the round is over. But you expect to win more than you expect to lose.”

SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Man) Hassan Abdel Majid, Head of the Nubian Wrestling Foundation

04:05

“This game, Sudanese wrestling, started in the south Kurdufan area, the area of the Nubian mountains and south Kurdufan. It was a local sport, which moved from the province of Kurdufan to the province of Khartoum. The government has paid special interest to this sport, which now has a local federation, the Khartoum Federation of Sudanese Wrestling. This game is an authentic Sudanese game, which symbolizes insight, strength and youth.”

“In the province of Khartoum, [wrestlers] from the south, north and west of Kurdufan represent this great legacy. You can see the interest that the government has paid to this sport in this stadium. This stadium is dedicated to Sudanese wrestling. The government also started a federation that sponsors this activity. The government has given attention to all sports, especially Sudanese wrestling, it is a pure Sudanese sport. We are exporting this sport to the entire world, God willing.”

“We participated in tournaments in Turkey, Japan and Korea. In a few days, a Sudanese wrestler will play against the champion of Japan, who has won four medals. This stadium will host a Sudanese-Japanese match. God willing, we will win this match.”

“People from different countries love this wrestling. Most ambassadors who work in Khartoum are interested in this sport. Many foreigners and Europeans come to this Sudanese forum.”

“It is a distinguished sport. It is a pure Sudanese game. It does not resemble American or Japanese wrestling. This is pure Sudanese wrestling. It is the same type of wrestling but in the Nubian mountains it is held in the outdoors. Here it is organized within a federation and according to laws and charts. In south Kurdufan, it is held in the valleys, plains and the wilderness. Here, there is a stadium that hosts this sport.”