Down to the ground

During our second stay in Khartoum and once the 7 exhausting days of uninterrupted wedding celebrations finally came to an end, we were able to attend an event that we left pending from the first visit.

Every Friday, in a far-flung suburb of Bahri district, a big crowd of men looking for some action congregates at a local stadium to witness one of the most ancient forms of wrestling, the

Nubian fights.

After having spent quite some time living with the Nubians and delighting ourselves with their incredibly warm affection, it is incredibly hard to associate them with the word "fight". In any case, even though it is a sport of friction, that doesn't mean it is necessarily violent. The goal of the fight is basically to force the opponent to fully lie on the ground but without using any kind of physical aggression. No punching, no kicking. Originally, the Nubians used to fight naked, with their bodies fully covered in ashes, and their hands impregnated with some kind of oil from the cow that would allow them to seize the opponent better. However, It has been decades since the repressive government of Al-Bashir has banned nudity and since then, they wear ordinary football shorts and T-shirts or jerseys.

When we arrived at the scene by mid-afternoon, the stadium was already full. A massive crowd of men wearing their

galabiyas

and turbans surrounded the round ring of sand where the actual fight takes place. The cheering, the screaming, the whistling, follow every single clash of the fighters.

Once the referee blows his whistle, the wrestles lock their eyes in those of the other, they crouch with their torsos leaning forward and opening their arms, ready to either charge or hold back the other's charge. For several seconds they go around sort of testing the enemy, they carefully go in circles, they pick up sand from the ground and spread it in their hands. The crowd remains silent, the tension rises as seconds pass by.

Until one of them suddenly decides to charge. It looks like the most common technique is to try to bring the opponent down by pushing him from the top of his head in order to subdue him.

From the head, they move to the body and the crowd bursts into full excitement. The strong push for the surrender of the other begins. Arms and legs work their way to be able to lock the enemy's body with the aim of fully dominating him in order to bring him down to the ground.

It is a clash of titans, where the struggle, sometimes a bit violent, between these two "hulks" lead them to the most awkward positions.

At times it looks like one might already have the other fully trapped in between his arms and legs, but it only takes technique to revert their positions and put the other one in the dominating one. They lift each other into the air, they wrestle for minutes to lock the other down or to hold back the charges and get away from the enemy's seizure.

Until they finally fall, usually one dragging the other to the ground, but even there, the situation can suddenly change, as long as neither is fully lying on the ground. The bigger they are the harder they fall, they are so heavy that upon their fall the sand splashing in all directions.

The winner is finally taken up their trainer's shoulders and walked around the ring while he salutes the crowd.

Whether they have won or lost, the bruises and scratches are visible all over.

But not always the result is happily accepted and the angry wrestlers throw themselves to the judges at full force without hesitation. The police intervene while the crowd booes and jeer at them adding tension to the situation. 

The fights go on and on one after another throughout the whole afternoon until the sun goes down. It was one of the most interesting events I have seen in Sudan and I regret not having attended to them every single Friday. Generally speaking I strongly dislike contact sports, but in this case one cannot see explicit violence like in monstrous practices like boxing. Quite the opposite, here you can see the contenders smiling at each other and chatting before, during and after the fight, as though it were a friends' entertainment rather than a fight.