Traditional Bakweri Wrestling

Traditional Bakweri Wrestling

Festival Essentials

Where: Though not unique to Cameroon, wrestling is popular in villages surrounding Mount Cameroon, Cameroon, Central-West Africa
When: Every Sunday during February and March
What happens: Fierce, warrior-like battles to wrestle your opponents to the ground, WWF-style
Remember to bring: plenty of deep heat rub if you intend to participate

Who are the Bakweri

The Bakweri people have lived in the villages scattered around the slopes of Mount Cameroon for over 4000 years. Historically the Bakweri are territorial people and fierce fighters who have always defended their rights, land and culture against the successive colonising powers of Germany and Britain.

Although the Bakweri are now completely modernised, some have even converted to Christianity, they are still attached to their ancestral traditions and have retained their ancient tribal organisation. Each Bakweri village is headed by a chief and his tribal council who are central to all cultural events. The Bakweri take pride in celebrating their cultural heritage during events such as the Race of Hope, when they perform secret rituals to bless the mountain.

Bakweri Traditional Wrestling Events

One special sporting event, the Bakweri Traditional Wrestling, encompasses all the qualities the Bakweri have inherited from their ancestors: physical endurance, agility, fierce fighting techniques, and a great sense of competition.

Wrestling is known as wesuwa and it’s taken very seriously by all the members of the community. In the past wrestling used to be an important way of determining leadership in the villages; it even resulted in a war between two villages in 1891, when people from Ghango burnt down the village of Molonde in revenge for the death of their best wrestlers. Fortunately, this behaviour now a thing of the past. Today, wrestling is a friendly competition drawing a huge crowd from all over the region. Every Sunday for eight weeks in February and March every village gathers their best wrestlers in a major contest to see who has the best fighters with athletes showing off their fighting prowess. Each village is the host of the wrestling for one day.

How to Fight – Bakweri Style

Although Bakweri wrestling is a traditional form of fighting, it has similarities with WWF wrestling. A match between two villages starts with all the contestants, who wear skimpy sarongs, meeting in the middle of the large expanse of grass which forms the wrestling pitch. The wrestlers tease each others by making gestures of threat and then challenge each others into a nail-biting fight. A contestant wins a bout by throwing his opponent on his back or by taking him down and then either rolling him on his back or forcing him flat on this stomach. To set the atmosphere, drummers on an elevated stage beat intricate rhythms on large log drums throughout the match while the crowds roar and shout encouragement to the wrestlers. The setting is magnificent; the villages are surrounded by dense and lush vegetation with Mount Cameroon towering in the background over the wrestling field and glimpses of the ocean can be seen on the horizon.

The contest culminates with the announcement of the year’s champion wrestler who is then carried among the spectators to loud acclaim accompanied by tradition songs and dances performed by the cheerleaders – the elder tribeswomen.

More Information

Wiki: Bakweri (Kwe)
The low-down on Bakweri culture and society.

Main Image: Art of Wrestling, Rod Waddington, Flickr Creative Commons

By Marie-Laure Vigneron

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