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Nuba Wrestling: A Look into Sudan’s Nuba People and their Traditional Wrestling Culture

The Nuba people have been wrestling for centuries and like other forms of Wrestling in Africa, the purpose of Nuba wrestling is to build group identity and display the prowess of the group’s young men.

Nuba Wrestling: A Look into Sudan's Nuba People and their Traditional Wrestling Culture
Sunday 5 december 2010 – Juba, Southern Sudan – Traditional wrestling match in Juba Stadium between Dinka wrestlers from Yirol East of Lake State and Mundari wrestlers from Terekeka County of Central Equatoria State. Photo credit: Benedicte Desrus

The Nuba peoples are various indigenous ethnic groups who inhabit the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan state in Sudan, encompassing multiple distinct peoples that speak different languages which belong to at least two unrelated language families.

The population consists of people from over 90 different tribes. Their identity as “Nuba” is largely derived from their similar cultural and economic practices, as well as shared space and historical experiences, distinct from other groups in Sudan.

The term as a form of self-identification increased after independence as the Nuba’s interaction with urban centres increased.

Culture

Nuba Wrestling: A Look into Sudan's Nuba People and their Traditional Wrestling Culture
Nuba Wrestlers covered in ash

The Nuba people are primarily farmers, as well as herders who keep cattle, chickens, and other domestic animals.

The primary religion of many Nuba peoples is Islam, with some Christians, and traditional shamanistic beliefs also prevailing.

A distinctive characteristic of the Nubas is their passion for athletic competition, particularly traditional wrestling.

The strongest young men of a community compete with athletes from other villages for the chance to promote their personal and their village’s pride and strength (youths represent their villages rather than themselves at Nuba wrestling matches).

Very few cultural practices match the importance of wrestling to the people of the Nuba Mountains, infact the hand to hand combat is one ritual that ties them to their old customs.

Nuba Wrestling

Nuba Wrestling in Sudan

For thousands of years, Nuba Wrestling has been a fixture of life for the dozens of distinct tribes that constitute the Nuba.

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The individual customs vary among communities, some hold elaborate tournaments to mark the planting or harvest seasons; others wrestle as part of wedding celebrations.

The purpose of the wrestling at these festivals is to build group identity, build ties between tribes and at the same time display the prowess of the group’s young men.

Historically, Wrestlers would fight naked, covered in ash, or soaked in grip-resistant cow butter. But now due to civilization and Religion it is more common to fight in shorts and sleeveless white t-shirts.

The younger wrestlers are trained by former champions, creating a system of community and passing down of talents.


“Wrestling is in my blood, Zeber, a teenage wrestler said, “My father taught me, and his father taught him. Wrestling is in the blood of the Nuba.”


The goal of Nuba wrestling is to slam the opponent to the ground. The wrestling has no pinning and no submissions.

During wrestling, feasts, music, dance, and stories about former champions are integral to the practice and it is not just restricted to the villages. The tournaments also takes place in cities and they are often used by people living in those same cities to help them retain their sense of cultural identity.


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