Traditional African Sports and Games: Today, Nuba Wrestling

By Michael Nakasissa
Updated: February 8, 2006

In today’s article we take a look at the sports of the Nuba people of the Sudan.

Nuba wrestling, practiced for over 3,000 years, is one of the oldest forms of this ancient sport. The earliest known portrayal of Nubian wrestlers is found on a wall painting from the tomb of Tyanen, an Egyptian officer who died in 1410 B.C. While it is known that Egyptians recruited Nubian archers into their army, maybe this picture implies that Nubian wrestlers were also highly valued by the Egyptians. “Nubian” is a common term the Egyptians used to describe all brown- and black-skinned people living to the south. After studying the various wall paintings depicting Nubian wrestlers and comparing them to the myriad tribes in what is now modern-day Sudan, archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians have determined that the Nubas of southern Kordofan are most likely the descendants of the ancient Nubian wrestlers.

Ancient Greek wrestling and Nuba wrestling are similar in style-the wrestlers are nude and score by takedowns (not pinning). These wrestlers can use their entire body, but modern Greco-Roman-style wrestling allows the competitors to use only their upper bodies for takedowns. Nuba wrestling, however, most likely predates Greek wrestling by several hundred years and has remained essentially unchanged for millennia.

Wrestling is more than just a sport to the Nubas-it is a seminal part of their culture with both social and religious purposes. Boys prepare for manhood through wrestling competitions. Successful wrestlers achieve a higher status that follows them through life. Wrestling also has connections with fertility rites, ancestral worship, and animistic beliefs. It is so intertwined with all aspects of Nuba culture, it is feared that if the Nuba were to lose wrestling, it might cause them to lose other customs.

Source:Larson,Marisa (2003).Nuba wrestling history.National Geographic Magazine,feature 3.Retrieved February 7th,2006, from ngm/0302/feature3/ Additional Links: wysinger/nubiansport.html