When I Was A Wrestler

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By Momodou Ndow

In Bakau, if it wasn’t one thing, then it’s another, and sometimes it was wrestling (aka borey). They would fence the Bantaba right in the heart of Bakau Dingko kono with a sakett, and voila, you have your arena. The Bantaba was located at an intersection that had a big tree with huge surface roots, and on normal days, you would find people sitting on the surface roots using them as benches – they were that huge. The space was wide enough to temporarily fence a section of it with sakett, and still allow room for passing traffic and pedestrians. The sand at the Bantaba was soft like tissue and perfect for wrestling.

On such days, pure normalcy would drift into excitement, and later lapses into festiveness as the showdown draws near. Tickets were sold at the gate with the usual haycho, Gambian style. The wrestlers would dance to the drum rhythm of the beat of their respective cultures as they gear up to lock horns. The wrestling matches where mainly between the Fulas and the Jolas, and occasionally a couple of Balantas. The teams would sit across from each other, and the Balantas usually sat with the Fulas.

The wrestlers (mborrs) came in different weight classes, but for some reason, the bigger mborrs tend to have more juju. However, the smaller mborrs were more exciting to watch because their matches were fast a furious – with less juju! There were some mborrs who would wrestle each other most of the time and the audience liked to see them pair, but sometimes it was hard to tell who was going to be locking horns with whom, until you see them dancing their way to the center of the arena. They would then start performing their various rituals and humbal tuti preceding to their showdown.

The organizers had a free entrance policy for kids, provided they brought a bucket of water for the mborrs to rinse themselves off after their tussle. I believe this was the policy in other arenas as well. So on days when I couldn’t afford the fare, I would grab a sewo plastic from home, jarr yoni ganaw, and fill it up at the pompeh mbeda at the junction of Jallow Kunda ak Secka Kunda. From there, I only had roughly seventy to a hundred meters to walk to the Bantaba arena. Once in, I would try to sit as close as possible to where the buckets of water were placed because the proximity was crucial, if you wanted to keep an eye on your bucket and away from sacha kat yee – I had to return it home.

Once the action started, I became focused and attentive, learning the tricks – tricks like galgal fayti, lippi, busulu jalang, worr ndombo, kalang, mbass, ak ennu baychi. One of my favorite mborrs was called Borbor Dinding (I am convinced he was a Balanta), and he looked more like a sasuman than a mborr. He was slender, but infinitely skilled. His style awkward, but effective. He would quickly turn around and have his opponent behind him, which is generally considered a compromising position, but not for Borbor Dinding. That was his strength and part of his game plan. He would then let his opponents struggle to bring him down before swiftly flipping the script on them and bringing them down instead. That was his signature move, and it always worked. Rumor also had it that he used to moonlight as a Mamapara tam. Hamnga rumor time mi ndo rek!

As always, as soon as the event ended, it was time for the “mbojo mbojo” mborrs like myself to enter the fray, size up each other, and practice our moves. I was good at everything but ennu baychi, my skinny frame wouldn’t allow me. Nonetheless, my victories there were many, and it was always fun. We also used to borey at school, during break time or after studies in the evening, and our matches can be so random sometimes too. We could be walking and having a conversation, and all of a sudden have the urge to lock horns. We were some unpredictable wrestlers for sure.

I remember walking with a classmate/friend (name withheld, but he might be reading this piece) after studies one evening and found a nice patch of fine sand diggi Bakau School, so we decided to borey. We gently sat our books on the side and began to tussle. I went in for a quick lippi followed by a busulu jalang with him landing on his head. There was radio silence for a moment before he started moaning and groaning, then said in a very soft voice “woyayoye wonanaa suma puruhh bi.” At first I thought he was joking, but when he couldn’t move, I got scared. For a swift second, I believed I had committed murder! Soon after, to my relief, he quickly recovered and we were on our merry way home.

I was also once challenged, after a string of wins during break time under the big tree at Bakau School by an older kid in primary six (name withheld, but he is in Norway now). I believe I was in primary four then. I went for the mbass move on that occasion, and he was down in a jiffy. Once everyone started laughing, he wanted to turn it into a fight, rek maneh sirr daw! I have since retired from wrestling after I left Bakau School, but if you would like to challenge me, you can rewind the hands of time and meet me at the Bakau Bantaba or diggi Bakau School. Ironically, though, I never consulted “Marabout Janneh” for my wrestling, I relied purely on skill and agility. Barra sewna y wenge la. Rendeng! When Gambia was nice.

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