It was that other night. Quite an advanced night it was. Deep darkness had befallen over the west African coast since a few hours ago. And me with a friend we were striding along the lonely road from the town of Joal towards Fadiouth island.
We had ended up there quite randomly. We arrived in Joal by late afternoon that same day, after a long bus trip from Dakar, and were intending to get to Palmarin village, some way further south, on the same day, somehow. Some people we asked in Joal told us that we’d be able to find a sept-place taxi until late in the night. So, we thought we could spare the remaining daylight to visit the island of Fadiouth, located some few kilometers south of Joal.
So we did. We spent a very exhilarating evening in Fadiouth. But, coming back to Joal later, we could find no reasonably-priced means of transportation to take us to Palmarin. On top of that, we neither managed to find any budget accommodation option. Having spent some good deal of time wandering around Joal and asking in vain, we decided to head back to Fadiouth once again. There was that friendly chap, Alfonce, and his sister, who we had met earlier there and had invited us home for the night, but we had to kindly turn them down, as we were planning on leaving. The idea, now, was to get back there and try to find them again.
Back to the dark night and the lonely road, we were crossing that 500-meter long, scenic bridge connecting Fadiouth to the mainland. At some point by its beginning, we encountered a bunch of some friendly local lads coming the opposite way. They halted us to talk with us. We explained what our mission was, and – not surprisingly, as pretty much everyone in such a small African community usually is everyone’s relative – one of them, Tarou, happened to be Alfonce’s cousin. In their turn, they were on their way to attend some wrestling contest in Joal and invited us to join them. We agreed on a plan: Tarou would turn back to take us to his cousin’s house where we could leave our stuff first, and then we’d go to Joal together to attend the event.
About an hour later, we were standing outside a large field on the outskirts of the town. We could have no sighting of what was happening inside, as large crowds were tightly amassed all around the wire fence defining its periphery. We could only hear that iterative drum pattern playing round and round accompanied by sedative chants, imbuing the atmosphere with a trance-inducing effect.
We proceeded to the gate. We were originally asked for an extraordinary sum of money so to be granted entrance, which we refused to pay. A wrangle between Tarou and the gatekeeper followed up immediately after. I could not understand a word of what was said, but it surely was about Tarou chastising the gatekeeper for trying to rip us off. It resulted in us paying the normal price of the ticket and being let to come in.
To be honest, paying even the small amount of money the ticket cost, I did it in quite a yielding manner, so not to cause any discordance in the company, as I did not expect the contest to be anything so really spectacular, and did not feel super-excited about attending it. Upon entering, however, I was obliged to change my mind in the very instance. What we got to behold was beyond every expectation, absolutely astonishing!
Apart from a platform reserved for some official-looking men, apparently the squirearchy of the town, there were no seats. We found a place to squat among the thousands of others doing so around the arena. The arena itself was some 100 m wide, and about 10 pairs of wrestlers were fighting fiercely on different spots around it, each pair watched by a referee. Those guys were towers, monsters, unnaturally huge, surely abusing anabolic steroids. They would be standing in a bending position, closely paying attention to the slightest of each other’s moves while circling one another and – in some sort of symbolic act, I think – plucking up handfuls of sand and hurling them through the air until, in some unsuspected instance, one would make the dash for the other first, whereupon a ferocious battle would start till one is laid flat. The winner then would celebrate frenetically amidst the delirious cheering of the crowd.
In the meanwhile, the rest of the wrestlers who waited for their turn to step into the arena and show what they’ve got, they would be circling the arena in a slow rhythmical pace directed by the percussion, in a sort of a ceremonial rapturous dance. This dance, I got to know, is performed because it is believed to increase their chances of winning. Besides their superhuman vigor, the wrestlers also rely on various other means of superstitious nature in order to meet with success in their field. For example, no serious contestant would ever consider fighting without having wrapped around some part of his body a giri-giri: a sort of magical talisman consisting of a piece of paper inscribed with verses of the Quran enclosed into a leather strap.
Njob wrestlers enjoy high esteem among the Senegalese society and are said to be immensely rich. How rich, I wasn’t able to get informed, however. Our friend Tarou tried to give us a picture, but he was quite unsure of it himself, it turned out… He first claimed that they make 100.000 CFA per match, but after noticing that we didn’t get much impressed, he changed it to “no, sorry, 100.000.000 I meant!”… still no exclamation of surprise, “no, sorry, more than that!”