Seereer wrestling (Njom)
Njom is a form Seereer wrestling popular throughout the Senegambia region (Senegal and The Gambia) as well as in Mauritania where the Seereer people are found. It is so popular that it has now been commercialised in Senegal and attracts millions of Dollars ($).
The njom is a major part of Seereer cultural heritage. It falls under the Seereer principle / philosophy of "Jom", itself a fundamental part of Seereer religion. Similar to Ndut classical teachings where Seereer boys acquire knowledge about the cosmos and the paranormal world during their circumcision rite of passage, the njom also provides physical education to Seereer boys, as it is in the wrestling arena where they test their valour and discipline. The word jom means heart or honour in Seereer and Cangin. The Seereer principle of Jom sets out the values and beliefs that every good Seereer must abide by in the way they behave and treat themselves, their families and society at large. It covers a huge range of values and beliefs including economic, ecological, personal and social values. Seereer wrestling (njom) falls under "personal values" of this principle. Other than the Seereer ethnic group, the Jola are also renown for their wrestling skills. The Seereer and Jola techniques are somewhat similar.
One of the most notable and historical figures in the Senegambia region known for his wrestling skills was a Seereer man by the name of Boukar Djillakh Faye (Seereer proper: Bugar Jilaak Fay). He originated from Djillakh (Dieghem) in the Seereer precolonial Kingdom of Siin. He lived the 14th century and was the paternal ancestor of the Faye Paternal Dynasty that ruled the Seereer precolonial Kingdom of Siin. As a result of his wrestling prowess, he was given the niece of Maad a Sinig Maissa Wally Jaxateh Manneh in marriage. It was from that marriage that the Faye Dynasty sprung from. That was at the time of the Gelowar Maternal Dynasty, a dynasty that ruled from 1350 (since the reign of Maissa Wally) to 1969 when the Seereer precolonial kingdoms of Siin and Saluum were absorbed into modern day Senegal following Senegal's own colonial independence from France. The Seereer kingdoms were the only Senegambian kingdoms that saw the "face" of the twentieth-century.
Historically, the njom (wrestling) was a form of preparatory exercise for the Seereer warrior class. This tests their valour in the wrestling arena before embarking on the battlefield.
The word "laamb" is also used by the Wolof to describe Seereer wrestling. Laamb is a borrowed word from the Seereer language. It stems from the Seereer royal title Fara-Lamb Siin ("Fara" - of Mandinka origin, and "Lamb" - of Seereer origin) who was the chief griot that used to beat the tam-tam of Siin called lamb or laamb in Seereer.
The njom now transcends the ethnic divide throughout the Senegambia region and is a national sport in Senegal attracting big business.
CONNECTION TO SEEREER RELIGION
Like most aspects of Seereer culture, the njom tradition is intricately linked to Seereer religion (A ƭat Roog). Not only are the rituals (see below) Seereer religious in nature, but the njom itself was organised after the rainy season as way of thanking Roog Seen or Kooh Seen (the Supreme Deity in Seereer religion) for granting them good harvest and plenty of food for the whole year.
Since a starving man cannot be a practitioner of njom, the champion was considered to be the strongest and most powerful man as well as the best farmer in Seereer society. In ancient times, njom champions were rewarded with a bull - which has both agricultural and mythical significance in the Seereer world-view. In spite of the commercialised nature of njom especially in present-day Senegal, some wrestlers are also rewarded with a bull and money in homage to its historical roots.
NJOM COMPETITIONS AND ATTIRE
Njom competitions were organised at the end of the rainy season, usually after the harvest period from September to November. In Siin, competitions are also held each year in January and February, the period following the harvest and prior to the first planting of the new year.
During the harvest of millets, Seereer men would wear long trousers in order to avoid being prickled by sharp thorns. In njom competitions, they would recycle their field trousers by cutting it off from the knee and wearing it as wrestling outfit. These shorts are called mbaap. The word "mbaappat" or "mbapate" (one of the Seereer wrestling techniques) derives from the Seereer word mbaap. These wrestlers would use the mbaap as loincloth, then tie traditional cloths called "mood" around their bodies.
Seereer wrestling is physical, educational and mystical. Wrestlers usually enter the wrestling arena with leather amulets on their necks, arms, legs and waists. Seereer women sing, chanting Seereer songs of bravery. Female spectators sprinkle dust on the chest of their heroes cheering them on perform warrior dances. During njom competitions, people would make lots of ngalah (a Seereer drink made from millet) for the wrestlers and their supporters. Before the tournament, wrestlers will visit their marabouts (not to be confused with Muslim marabouts, but Seereer religious marabouts) for talismans and divination.
Please cite this work as:
"Visage peint d'un marabout entré dans l'arène au Stade Demba Diop de Dakar (Sénégal) avant un combat de lutte sénégalais"
Credit : Erica Kowal
Njom in The Gambia - 2003.
Credit: Atamari & sachara
The njom is usually accompanied by the kim njom - a musical chant made by young Seereer women where they reveal their gift of "poetry" (ciiɗ in Seereer). The lamb drum described above was a musical accompaniment to the njom. It also used to accompany the Njuup - a conservative Seereer music repertoire and progenitor of Mbalax music.
Click to edit table header
In many of the techniques described below, the main objective of the game is to throw your opponent to the ground without hitting with the hands. Seereer wrestling is sheer technique. There were strict rules as to what was and what wasn't allowed during the tournament. Using blows with the hands, like some Senegalese wrestlers tend to do now were not allowed in certain techniques. Holding onto your opponent's loincloth would also get you disqualified. If a wrestler manages to pin his opponent to the ground, with shoulder blade, buttocks or head touching the ground, he would be declared the winner by the referee(s).
RULES & TECHNIQUE
Here are some Seereer wrestling techniques with their associated rules. This list is not exhaustive :
1. O kal : Similar to leg crunches. The wrestler hits his opponent on his leg with his foot. It can be done in various ways. When the wrestlers are face-to-face and holding each others' arms, one can surprise the other by hitting with his foot on his opponent's heel and pushing on his chest in order to throw him off-balance.
2. Biif or yaff : In this action, the wrestler holds his opponent in the arms, armpits or shoulders and pulls him down quickly.
3. Galgal : This action is done with the legs. The wrestler puts his leg between his opponent’s legs, he strongly hooks/interlaces at his opponent’s calf then apply pressure to force him to raise his foot from the ground, and balance him using his chest and arms then bring him to the ground.
4. Ndoƴuk : This action can only happen during a game between two wrestlers of different heights. The tallest wrestler can hold his opponent on the armpits or shoulder and apply pressure with his head and chest on his opponent's in order to force him to bow down painfully from behind.
5. Njuuy : This means to dodge an attack and knock over an opponent without touching him.
6. Ga cah : This means to avoid an attack by bowing one leg and holding your opponent from behind. The wrestler will then propel his opponent by pulling him up in order make his head touch the round.
7. Ga nah : This means to propel your opponent with your back. This is a very sudden action where the wrestler attack by his back and propel his opponent with his back.
8. Jim mbuf : This means attacking your opponent by trying to catch his leg and pulling it from the ground. When the wrestler succeeds, his opponent only stands on one leg. At this point, the wrestler can execute a kal (hook) move or whatever he want to knock over his opponent.
9. Kooɗuk : This means to attack and pick-up your opponent, and putting him on your shoulders before knocking him over.
10. Nooja : In this action, the wrestler strongly bows/kneel over his opponent whilst he is under him. In other words, to lay your body over your opponent forcing him breath heavily and give up by falling down.
These are some of the main actions in njom but there are other ways of executing them depending on the standing of your opponent and your own technical skills.
CRITICISM OF ITS COMMERCIALISATION
The commercialisation of the njom has been a topic of discourse among Seereer traditionalists who see it as a commodification of their cultural heritage which both has a religious and historical significance. Like the politicisation of the Xoy (a Seereer divination festival) in recent times, some ultra-conservative Seereers especially older wrestlers have criticised the current commercialisation of the njom in Senegal, the lack of discipline among the younger generation of wrestlers, greed, doping and lack of respect for the art's historical past. In a candid interview with Rewmi, Hyacinthe Ndiaye (alias Manga 2), former Seereer champion now turn promoter voiced his dissatisfaction in the way the sport has changed since his time. He lamented that big businesses have now taken over, and nowadays people are only interested in the money, not the love of the art and the honour that went with it. He went on to say that during his time, wrestlers fought for bravery and love of the land. He added that in the current climate, he has even seen wrestlers lose battles and instead of hiding themselves in shame and dishonour as was the case in the past, wrestlers now lose and smile. In the past, if a Seereer wrestler loses, he would be so ashamed to even show his face in society and would hide himself for days without showing his face.
LIST OF NOTABLE SEEREER NJOM CHAMPIONS
Here is a sample of some notable Seereer njom champions (past and present). This list is not exhaustive :
- Boukar Djillakh Faye - (14th-century, from Djillakh (Dieghem))
- Yakhya Diop, more commonly known as Yékini - (born: 26 February 1974 in Joal, Siiin)
- Robert Diouf - (born: 3rd February 1942, originally from Fadiouth)
- Boy Joobaas - (from Fadiouth)
- Papis - (from Fadiouth)
- Pierre Téné - (born 1938 in Palmarin, Petite-Côte, champion in the 1960s))
- Eumeu Sene -
- Modou Lô -
- Hyacinthe Ndiaye, more commonly known as Manga 2 (a former njom champion who now promotes)
1. Senghor, Léopold Sédar; Brunel, Pierre; "Poésie complète", CNRS éditions (2007), p. 425, ISBN 2-271-06604-2
2. Tang, Patricia, "Masters of the sabar: Wolof griot percussionists of Senegal", Temple University Press (2007). p.144, ISBN 1-59213-420-3
3. Gravrand, Henry, "L’HERITAGE SPIRITUEL SEREER : VALEUR TRADITIONNELLE D’HIER, D’AUJOURD’HUI ET DE DEMAIN" [in] Éthiopiques, numéro 31, révue socialiste de culture négro-africaine, 3e trimestre (1982) (last retrieved 15th December 2015)
4. Gravrand, Henry, "La Civilisation Sereer" : "Pangool", Les Nouvelles éditions africaines (1990), p. 40, 49, ISBN 2-7236-1055-1
5. Diouf, Niokhobaye, "Chronique du royaume du Sine." Suivie de notes sur les traditions orales et les sources écrites concernant le royaume du Sine par Charles Becker et Victor Martin. (1972). Bulletin de l'Ifan, Tome 34, Série B, n° 4, p. 4(p. 706), (1972)
6. Faye, Louis Diène, "Mort et naissance le monde sereer", Les Nouvelles éditions africaines (1983), p. 22, 33-4, ISBN 2-7236-0868-9
7. Agence de Presse Sénégalaise (APS) "Rémi Diégane Dioh présente samedi son CD dédié à Senghor" [in] APS
9. Interview of Boy Joobaas and Papis of Fadiouth, Senegal - by Demba Sene for The Seereer Resource Centre (2016).
Boy Joobaas is a professional wrestler and Papis was a professional wrestler and now coaches the Joal-Fadioth team. Both men are professionals in the field of njom and studied the history.
13. "Festival of American Folklife", (Contributors: United States. National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution), The Institution (1990), p. 44
15. Ly, Bocar, "Allou: l'âme d'un peuple?", Presses universitaires de Dakar (2005), p. 22, ISBN 9782913184282