Senegal wrestling (Njom in Serer, Lutte sénégalaise) is a national sport of Senegal and The Gambia where the sport was originally performed by the Serer people. It is also one of the larger West African forms of traditional wrestling (fr. Lutte Traditionnelle).
Wrestling is a physical exercise for the Serer people. It’s a practice that came from their warring history and was once an initiation rite for young people. This practice has its roots in the Jom principle, which includes economic, ecological, personal, and social values.
One of the oldest recorded wrestlers was Boukar Djilak Faye (a Serer), who lived in the 14th century in the Kingdom of Sine. He was an ancestor of the Faye Paternal Dynasty of Sine and Saloum, which are both Kingdoms in present-day Senegal. The njom wrestling spectacle was accompanied by chants accompanied by young Serer women so that they could reveal their gift for poetry – ciid, which is a tradition in Serer culture. The word Lamb, which is Wolof for wrestling, derives from the language of Fara-Lamb Sign (Fara is a Mandinka language while Lamb comes from the Serer language). The chief griot or griot would beat the tambourine or tam-tam called Fara or Laamab in Serer. It also had its part to play during colonialism times as well as after Senegal’s independence when it was one of the things included in Njuup music.
Wrestling has gone from being a regional form of entertainment for adolescents to the national sport, transcending ethnic boundaries. Traditional wrestling competitions have included young men using their skills in order to win favor with potential romantic or marriage partners as well as demonstrate their strength and ability to achieve masculinity. Wrestling matches often began with audiences watching as two wrestlers (called mbër) performed bàkk in a colorful ring before they fought each other. Bàkk is a performance art where performers throw themselves at their rivals who show respect by removing their caps. This art could also be seen in political speeches or other situations where the performer feels they need to brag about his accomplishments in order to receive admiration or respect. Not only can bàkk be used during wrestling matches but it can actually be a way of offering respect to elders.
The bàkk can be in narratives, praise songs, or poems. The bàkk is a form of accompaniment that highlights the physical presence of the wrestler through being artistic and verbally clever. The oral art of the bàkk, used by Senegalese wrestlers, has its history in griots.