Categorized | ANGOLA, ARTICLES, Chan's Blog, General History

Nuba wrestling

Posted on 02 October 2008 by chan

African combat games can be categorized into the following: wrestling, hand fighting, kicking, headbutting and weaponary.
So we are going to start of with Nubian Wrestling, a close range fighting system. Nubian wrestling is considered one of, if not the oldest martial arts recorded in history. This is why we are going to start here.
(The other martial art they consider the ‘first’ is kalaripayattu but the earliest record date back to only 12th century AD where as nubian wrestling has records dating back to 2500BC)

nubian drawings


In Kali (A filipino Martial art), They usually break the basics ranges up into five ranges: Weapon range, Kicking range, Punching range, Trapping range and locking/grappling range. (locking is sometimes considered a different range from grappling and within the grappling arts they also have broken the ranges down even more). Most martial systems only specialise predominantly in two or three of these ranges. Capoeira for instance, could be argued to really only specialise in its kicking range, with only a few hand techniques, and throws that are either derived from Batuque or Judo/jiujitsu/greco-roman wrestling (non-african arts). However, there is a remote possibility that nubian wrestling played some kind of part in the development of capoeira.


“Nubian” is a common term the Egyptians used to describe all brown- and black-skinned people living to the south.
According to oral tradition, the Nuba began wrestling in order to imitate monkeys. The Nuba wrestlers imitate certain animal and insect characteristics while wrestling.

Like a monkey, the Nuba will rub his hands on the ground; (to help his grip). (this is similar to moring/moringue of reunion which I will write about later). He also stamps his feet and shouts at his opponent. They flick their tongues like insects and dance within the ring, representing the spirit of their cattle herd or village.


It is every Nubian boys dream to represent his village. From a young age, he competes with other village boys in his peer group. this is to prove intelligence, character and skill in order to be chosen to live in a cattle camp outside of town. While exceptional boys are taken to a camp at a young age, all the boys eventually go to the cattle camp by the time their thirteen. At the camp, the boys care for the herd. They are also trained daily in wrestling by the village champion. The village will provide food for them in order for them to become stronger. Whilst at the camp, they become almost a cultic fraternity. They spend time everyday to reflect and meditate. The wrestlers will take ash from burnt trees (which represents to them life’s essence) and they’ll dust their naked bodies with it, in order to give them power and cultic identity. (Similar to some of the womens traditions in the efundula). By wrestling, the young nubian men are initiated into manhood.

nuba wrestling

Wrestling Matches

Wrestling is more than just a sport to the Nubas—it is an important part of their culture. Each individual wrestles several randomly chosen matches at a tournament. Wrestlers are free to refuse to compete against someone if they wish. The athlete that is first to take his opponent to the ground will win the match. Some wrestlers wear gourds around their waist. An unbroken gourd will represent that a wrestler hasn’t lost a match. however, if they are taken down, it is both embarrassing to them and painful when the gourd breaks on their skin.

The overall winner recieves a twig, an animal hide or a fur tail. Every village has a famous wrestler who is experienced and consistently successful. Often the champion’s reputation spreads and girls compose songs about his success.

Wrestling tournaments are held between Nuba villages. The competition is conducted around sowing and harvest seasons. There are obvious fertility rites connected with the wrestling tournaments.

Religious Rites

The religious implications of Nuba wrestling are more complex, containing at least three interrelated ideas. First, wrestling is closely related to ancestral worship. Second, wrestling is closely connected with fertility rites. Finally, wrestling is the channel through which the participants dramatize their animistic beliefs. Wrestling has continued to unify an otherwise dislocated and isolated people.

This is a very interesting video that depicts some nuba culture. Here you can see some of the nubian wrestling. There is also some nubian dancing, which has movements very similar to some of the samba and axe dance steps.
Capoeiristas, in turn wear patuas ‘good luck charms’ that are meant to protect and give powers, much like the animal hide or fur tail that is wrapped around the legs of the nuba wrestler.

The nuba people also identify strongly with their wrestling style as a means to preserve their cultural heritage. I believe that it is not so much with the movements of nubian wrestling, but more so in the cultural similarities and belief systems, that capoeira can identify with and empathise with nuba wrestling. Even if it is on a very small level.

nubian wrestlers

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4 Comments For This Post

  1. Cesar Moves Says:

    This Blog reminds me the reason I like bloging so much, the interaction is very important with readers and you guys have it right. Looks great too, will be back for more posts, David the mover.

  2. chan Says:

    thanks david.
    I hope you keep enjoying the site.

  3. Jay Says:

    This is a great article. I can definitely see teh similarity in some of the nuba wrestling and capoeira ideologies.

    Just wanted to add that the first ruler of the Egyptian kingdom – Mena was from Kush/Nubia, also the ethnic make up of ancient Egypt is different than it is today. The Greek, Roman and Arab conquest occurred thousands of years after the great dynasties existed. Ancient egyptiands were also dark skinned.

  4. Iron Dragon, SoShihan Says:

    All this african martial arts history is going to help me in my book i’m writing. Karate-do: Understanding the Mystery I am putting a chapter in about how African and Egyptian martial arts may have influence martial arts today including wrestling as well. THANK YOU SO MUCH

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