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Igbo Wrestling (1/2)

The contributions of the Igbo to the rich and underappreciated narrative of African Martial Arts are borne in the genre of traditional Igbo wrestling known locally as ‘Mgba’. A popular sporting activity in earlier times, Mgba united entire communities and villages at public arenas to witness Herculean displays of strength and valor by men--and in some rare cases, women.

Unlike in many Western styles of wrestling in which participants are free to employ a variety of motions and attacks to subdue their opponents, victory in the Mgba genre is achieved simply by “throwing” one’s opponent onto their back or backside through mainly torso and leg grappling.

Much fanfare accompanied these competitions, which were inadvertently rituals of their own. At the beginning of matches, competitors would enter the sandy arena with a flourish and perform a series of signature dances and flamboyant movements known as ‘ure mgba’, aimed at inspiring awe and excitement amongst spectators. Simultaneously, their entrance would be heralded by their griots and hypemen who would sing their praises and feats on the oja (flute), ekwe, ogele, or nkwa (talking drums). After this dramatic display, the tune of the talking drums would change to the Egwu Mgba, or wrestling music, and the heat of the brawl would ensue, with supporters from the sidelines hurling morale-imbuing chants.

Upon victory, the victor would then pose an open challenge to other members of his age-grade, beckoning them to defend and prove their manhood. If such a man defeated all of the challengers of his age-grade, he would be graced with the title ‘Dimgba’, meaning “master wrestler”, and then proceed to wrestle members of other consecutive age-grades. Great wrestlers earned the title ‘Okamgba’, meaning “supreme champion”, and those who had an even greater track record of unbeaten victories answered head-swelling praise names like ‘Cat’ and ‘Azu Eru Ala’, meaning “One whose back does not touch the ground”. Such great wrestlers won popularity amongst women and envy from their fellow men.#Igbohistory


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