Wrestling in South Sudan has catapulted many to legendary status such as Ajang Garang who made his name in the sport that has a special place in the national psyche.
Bakic Mangar, a 15-year-old wrestler from the Dinka community of Lakes State turns up on a chilly Sunday afternoon to wrestle his counterpart from the Mundari ethnic group from Central Equatoria state in Juba, the capital of South Sudan.
Both wrestlers are being cheered on by their local fans for the fight of their life with pride at stake for their respective states.
These wrestling competitions organized by the South Sudan Wrestling Federation and local chiefs are aimed at creating awareness on the need for peaceful co-existence and reconciliation among communities.
“The good thing about wrestling is that it is for peace and coming to know each other, we play wrestling with Mundari and our fellow Dinka from Jonglei to get to know each other,” said Mangar, whose duel in a fully packed mini-stadium ended in a stalemate.
These games are conducted weekly on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Mangar said he has already wrestled with many peers from Central Equatoria and Jonglei state since the beginning of this year.
Lino Makuac Pitia, a 40-year-old wrestling coach of the Mundari team from Terekeka of Central Equatoria, said the decades-old game has been crucial in promoting unity and peace at the grassroots.
“The good thing is that people come to watch and it brings peace to the people, I have now known many people from Yirol and from Bor, people have even met new friends,” Makuac said.
South Sudan is implementing the 2018 revitalized peace deal despite some hiccups facing the various parties who signed to end years of conflict that broke out in December 2013.
Wrestling is now one of the most vital vehicles to promote reconciliation efforts.
Malat Deng, a 24-year-old wrestler from Lakes State who took part in the game, said wrestling was previously only popular in rural areas, adding that it is now being enjoyed even in urban areas of the country.
Deng, who started participating in wrestling in 2019, said he has already taken down 21 wrestlers in peace tournaments.
“I have taken part in wrestling tournaments in different places such as Bor, Terekeka and we have now come to Juba. Wrestling is good for making peace among communities, we have known Mundari people and many people from Bor, people have come to love themselves and there is no hatred among people,” Deng said.
Nuri Madol, a member of the Mundari wrestling team from Terekeka, said the impact of these tournaments are already being felt including reduction in cattle rustling that lead to inter-ethnic strife.
“Cattle rustling has since reduced, now people have known each other when there is anything about to happen they can call local leaders and tell them to talk to their people and they understand themselves,” Madol said.
He revealed that wrestling is most popular among Mundari, Dinka communities of Lake state and Jonglei due to the influence of their ancestors.
“The first wrestlers were Taban and Gore Mapak, they were the first to bring wrestling to Juba, people then used to play it differently, the Mundari and Dinka used to wrestle only among themselves without integrating other communities,” Madol said.
John Garang, a member of the wrestling organizing team said that the tournament initiated in 2020 is for promoting social cohesion after years of war shattered the social fabric in South Sudan.
“After wrestling, people also begin dancing and after that you make friends, people come from Yirol, Terekeka, Bor and Twic East in Jonglei state,” Garang said.
Pato Kuoi, a 33-year-old wrestling commentator has made a name for himself among ardent fans of the sport within the country and in the diaspora.
Kuoi’s commentary in his native Dinka language has within a short period made him a house- hold name since he ventured into the trade in December 2021.
“People love this game and it is really promoting unity and peace in this country, the government is also supporting us and the game is growing very well,” said Kuoi.
“Recently there was a big wrestling match in Terekeka between someone called Lakuja Achot and Magon Akot, many people from Juba went there to attend this match and they returned to Juba peacefully and that is why I am emphasizing that wrestling is promoting peace,” Kuoi added. Enditem