July 23, 2007

Week #2 – Blog Entry Last week I mentioned a couple of the events I attended and put up some photos from those events. But in my haste I did not provide adequate information or explanation of the events. I will try to rectify that this week.As I said last week I will not try to provide a daily account of activities or a running log of events that take place while I am here. I will focus on topics and events that provide insight and understanding into the Gewel Tradition both historically and presently. Last week I discuused two events – the mbapatt and the tànnibér – so this is where I will begin.MbapattThe mbapatt is a wrestling event, but it is different than the matches that take place in the large stadiums in Dakar. The big matches are where the top wrestlers perform and compete for significant cash prizes. Each of the big wrestlers have or are connected to a training camp in one of the communities of Dakar where they train and keep in shape. These training camps are also a type of school where young men who aspire to be wrestlers come to learn the art of Senegalese wrestling and hone their skills in the hopes of becoming a professional in the sport. The mbapatt is where these aspirants get to demonstrate what they have been learning by pitting their skills against other wrestlers who are usually from competing camps.The mbapatt I attended (on more than one occasion last week) was set up in the street in front of the Sing Sing family compound in the community of Medina. The street was covered in sand (4 to 6 inches deep) to create a wrestling ring. During the day the children in the community played at wrestling there as well as playing football and other games since the sand kept cars from using that section of the street. At night barricades were used to outline the wrestling arena and large tarps were strung across the street at either end. The tarps were a way to make this public space (the street) a private space for this event; in order to see the event one had to pay a small fee (200 cfa – approximately $ .50). Lights which were strung across the street provided visibility for this night time event, and a sound system was also hooked up. The sound system was used by singers who sang songs of praise and encouragement before the matches began, and also to provide commentary during the matches.  The drums are also brought out and once they appear the young gëwéls get to play. This warm-up ensemble may be composed of several levels: those in their early teens (13-17) who value these opportunities to demonstrate and sharpen their skills; pre-teens (9-12) who jump at any opportunity to play on a drum rather than the empty cans and or plastic bottles they usually are relegated to; and possibly a few children (5-8) who seem to always be present when the drums are present because they love them so much. Since this is also a training opportunity this ensemble will usually be led by one or two of the older members of the family who make sure that the young gëwéls play the rhythms correctly. Once everything is in place and the drummers who will play for the night have arrived and begun to play, the wrestlers appear. They change into their wrestling cloth and begin to loosen up by stretching or sprinting the length of the arena. Some cover themselves with sand (see photo) and a couple have brought along potions that they pour over themselves. When the drummers play tous, the wrestlers rhythm, the wrestlers begin their dance around the arena. (see photo) When all of the preliminaries are completed the matches begin. This mbapatt was taking place during the week prior to the big final wrestling match of the season. That match, which pitted Bombadier from Mbour against Gris
Bordeaux from Fas, took place on Sunday, July 22 at the Demba Diop Stadium in Liberté 1. It is hard to describe the energy that existed around the stadium. Since it is the final match and the most significant event on Sunday afternoon, crowds of people come to the stadium to be part of this event. There are many groups of fans and supporters for the different wrestlers, decked out in t-shirts made for the event; there are stands set up to sell all types of food and refreshments from packets of water and café touba to grilled chicken and skewers of lamb. There are also the ticket scalpers who openly hawk the overpriced tickets that they are offering to sell. I went to the match with the drummers from the Sing Sing family who were playing for Gris Bordeaux in hopes of being able to photograph the event from the field. However, at big events there is a heightened security and they had strict limits on how many people could enter with each sabar group, and I did not get to go in with the musicians. I chose to go back to Medina to watch the match on television since the stadium was already full to capacity and I did not want to overpay for a ticket and have to stand or sit on concrete steps (I have done that before and my back is still hurts from the memory).
What is significant here is that the wrestlers each really do represent the communities that they are from. Their training camps are in those communities; they have grown up in those communities and still live there; through the years people have watched them develop in the mbapatts; and they pass on their skills to the next generation of fighters from that community. So their success is the community’s success and each member of the community takes pride in that. They also suffer greatly when there is defeat. There is really no equivalent in the U.S. since professional athletes are rarely part of the city where their team is located. It is important to understand that level of investment to understand the reactions to the outcome of the match.Gris Bordeaux defeated the larger Bombadier in a well fought match. Once it was over the streets of Medina which is also represented by the wrestlers from Fas began to fill as people left their homes to celebrate the victory of their champion. Thousands of people on foot, motorcycle, in and on cars, buses and car rapides filled the street for the next hour or so in celebration. People of all ages danced, sang, and cheered. The only way to capture some of the energy is on video and sadly I am a bit technologically challenged so I cannot put a clip on the blog right now. If I can figure out how to do so, I will share some of it here. For now these photos are all I can share.

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