Balla Gaye vs. Modou Lo

Alec Yeh - Senegal


April 1, 2010

Senegalese wrestling is a long-standing tradition. In fact, it’s not really “Senegalese.” It’s more African as a whole. But it’s their national sport, and everybody here loves it. Everybody. Even the old ladies. Including Fanta. She loves wrestling apparently, and I find that really hilarious. I can just imagine her getting really into it. But wrestling is EVERYWHERE here. You’ll hear kids saying, “Lutte, lutte, lutte.” You’ll see kids wrestling in the sand in the middle of the street. Half the time I can’t tell if they’re playing or if they’re seriously fighting. Some of the kids get really hurt and angry, so I never know whether to break it up for not. I usually just let it be because for the most part, they’re just playing around. But every once and a while, the kids are actually fighting, and I always feel guilty because I just can’t tell! But anyways, you’ll also see posters of wrestlers everywhere. Everybody has their favorite wrestler, and everybody has a laminated photo of their favorite wrestler hung up somewhere. They’re practically worshiped.

For fights, wrestlers always wear close to nothing. They wear this huge thing that looks like an adult diaper, but that’s it. They also have a ton of trinkets and medallions and things for good luck. That includes gris-gris. Gris-gris are these very African charms that ward off evil spirits. Every single Senegalese person, and I mean every one of them, wears one. They’re usually under their clothes so you can’t see. But with wrestlers, they usually have multiple gris-gris, and they’re usually very large and all over their body. It’s weird to see that since gris-gris are so traditionally African and actually clash in some ways with Islam. In this case, African tradition trumps Islam tradition. You can see the tug-of-war between the two quite often with other things. But those all goes to show how entrenched and how beloved African wrestling is. It’s their equivalent of baseball or football I guess.

The actual sport itself is a mixture of sumo wrestling, boxing, and ultimate fighter. The wrestlers are put into a circular sand pit where they wrestle to the beat of a drum and the singing of female wailers (they actually do sound like they’re just wailing). Anything goes in the ring except throwing sand in the face. You can punch and kick, and some of the punches can seriously knock you out. The point is to just knock your opponent onto the ground. Once their body makes clear contact to the ground, they’re done. The thing is, you can be pushed onto all fours, and still be considered in. The main thing is that your torso has to hit the sand. It’s sometimes hilarious because of how stupid some wrestlers can be. I once saw a match where a guy tripped over his foot and fell. And that was considered a victory for the other dude. It was hilarious.

But today, there was a big match between Balla Gaye and Modou Lo. It was like their equivalent of a Superbowl with the Patriots against the Colts. It was INTENSE. The two guys were both really big, chunky wrestlers. Both of them looked more fatty that muscular. You’ll notice that. Some are extremely lean and buff, while others just look overweight. But these two both looked more on the overweight side than the buff side. From all the pre-game talk, it was clear that Modou Lo was the underdog. He’s a little smaller, and Balla Gaye just has a more arrogant swagger. But once the match began, it was over before you could blink. Balla Gaye was able to get Modou Lo to the ground within 20 seconds. That was it. Balla Gaye won.

HOLY COW. I could not believe the reaction. Everybody was glued to the TV, and so when Balla Gaye won, there was the loudest cheer I have ever heard. And this wasn’t just in my house. I could hear cheers from all over Sangalkam. It was ridiculous. Absolutely insane. A guy who was watching at my house started running around as if he was crazy. He ran out onto the street and began screaming. And he wasn’t the only one. Eventually, there was a mob going around the village. So much cheering and so much yelling. When I walked out to see the mob, I saw flashing lights and people banging whatever they could find. There was even a trail of kids behind the mob re-enacting the last few moments of the match. I have never seen anything like it. Even Fanta ran out of the house for a block before running back. She was like a little kid. So adorable. But it was nuts. People were going SO crazy.

And you have to remember, this was happening all over Senegal. I feel bad for Modou Lo though. Sucks for him. And you always want the underdog to win, you know? It’s funny though. When I asked who was the underdog and who was less arrogant, Ndeye said Balla Gaye was. But when I talked to Mat, he was like, “No, Balla Gaye definitely wasn’t the underdog.” So I guess Ndeye was manipulating me to get me to like her man. El Hadj wanted Modou Lo to win, and it was funny because Ndeye was sticking her tongue at El Hadj and basically saying, “Sucka!”

Alec Yeh