Tydskrif vir letterkunde

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Traditional wrestling in Niger: between state voluntarism and ancestral symbolism

Mahaman L Sériba


Traditional wrestling occupies pride of place in Niger, compared to other sports and cultural activities. Interest in traditional wrestling is widespread among Nigériens from all walks of life: young men, adults, senior citizens, young women, mature women, adult men, handicapped persons, prisoners, peasant farmers, civil servants, artisans, housewives, politicians, marabouts (Muslim religious leaders/imams), féticheurs (animist priests), griots (wandering poets/musicians), trainers, researchers, journalists, labourers. In short, it can be asserted that traditional wrestling is firmly entrenched in Nigérien culture and generates unequalled enthusiasm. This unwavering popularity, built up over the years, is the result of the transposition of certain traits of political, social, cultural, sporting and economic life of Nigérien society into the National Championships of Traditional Wrestling. These championships, held in the various regions of the country, in turn, were institutionalised in 1975 by the government. This official intervention transformed traditional wrestling into a “great sport”, the king of sports in Niger. The predominant presence of the state administration in the organisation and management of the championships is justified by the official pursuit of national unity and social cohesion through the promotion of this sporting heritage. Cultural elements, like the opening prayer (fatiah), praise poems (take), poems of self-praise (kirari), formal salutations (gaysuwa), the giving of gifts and gratuities (kari), the wearing of charms (gris-gris) and the enthronement of the champion, transposed from the life of Nigérien society to the arena of the National Wrestling Championships, are the basis for the people\'s support of the championships and their identification with wrestling and wrestlers.

Keywords: Nigérien identity, wrestling, praise poetry, self-praise poetry

Tydskrif Vir Letterkunde Vol. 42(2) 2005: 18-32
AJOL African Journals Online