Toughs vs witch doctors: the wrestling ring magicians

By Caroline Six                            

Wrestlers in short skirts, raging convicts, furious rabbits, flying fish, raw eye eaters: this evening, the ring of Salongo in Kinshasa bangs and dances in all directions. Master Douglas, president of the Kinshasa wrestling East League, organized a tournament in the poor municipality of Lemba. And in DR Congo who says wrestling says fetish. Displeases the purists who enjoy little "this stories" and admire above all the technique of the "toughs", what the public does like is the witch-wrestlers. When, amid of the copper-colored accents of the brass band and the crackling noise of the megaphone, these magicians of the ring shoot out flames, more than one thousand people hold their breath. Before them the "Copperfield of Africa" and the "Doctor in metaphysics", the traditional He-men rarely measure up. What indeed can a roll or a "bat" do against mystic powers? Nothing. The toughs have no choice but to dance, enchanted and humbled. And here is the saviour of the Congolese wrestling. In this African carnival where the balance of power is reversed, the power of everyday life stops triumphing and, by the magic of the ancestors, mobile phones cross ages to land in the pockets of the penniless, fascinated kids.

It is without doubt why "here, after football, there is wrestling”, summarizes Israel, a young boy, before resuming his cheers with the crowd.

"There must be a good job for the applauses. And what the public demands is fetishes", explains Siren, crowned with a curly wig and wearing a short skirt. The wrestler knows what he is talking about. With the help of a young, large-chested woman, who bewitches her victims rolling her hips, and his own charm, he has just brought a giant to the floor. Deeply troubled, the poor man eventually feigns sexual intercourse with Siren and the girl, indifferent, and the general hilarity continues.

For City Train, 5kg at birth according to his mother, Africa wrestling champion in 2010, and star of the Warriors Club, "the best sport fetish is training". Looking at him lifting his 200kg of daily cast iron, one does not want to contradict him. Igwe Texas, nevertheless, with his girl's stature and his long legs adorned with a short rumba skirt, is not afraid of him: "I am the descendant of the traditional chief Mdiaye. I inherited witchcraft from my family and there is no wrestler who can beat me. I have the power to demolish anyone." Actually, his humor and swaying hips do most of the work. Since he has the power to make anyone he wants “dance"; brutal thugs, referees and even coaches. They all eventually go nuts and wiggle like machines in the ring, egged on by the laughs of the public.

Many witch-doctors, like him, play the humorous card and set against the chained human beasts, soldiers and the other brutes, invisible spells that paralyze or make a fool of them.

But some go much further and construct "very dangerous stories", in the eyes of many Congolese. And many people cross the street or lock their children up when the wrestlers' "caravan" passes through their district on a ruined bus to announce the same-day tournament.

These “stories” are above all apparitions controlled by the dead ancestors. So the champion of the witch-wrestlers of Congo, Bijou Kisamvwote, nicknamed "one blow one flame”, has for habit of carrying a coffin into the ring. Thanks to his fetish Mbengu Mbengu, an immense statuette with two heads that spits fire in due course, the house of his ancestor is filled with storm lanterns, clocks, mobile phones or even with umbrellas, which he throws to the galvanized crowd, fighting for the presents from the afterlife world. Other witch doctors, such as Viper, content themselves with spaghetti, live Thompsons (local fishes), rabbits or innocent young gooses. The distribution to the crowd, where many kids only eat every other day turns quickly into hysteria.

The Gesac Malema's show calms them down very quickly. This eminent witchdoctor from Bas-Congo, adorned with huge snails, raffia and wild animal skins, does not joke about.

After kissing the young man who accompanies him and from whom he pulls his strength square on the lips, the "Copperfield of Africa" transformed himself into a zombie, under the boos of the public roaring: "fag, fag!”. His final hold brings silence. With method and determination, he begins to tear off the eye of his paralyzed opponent before swallowing the bloody eyeballs patiently extracted, then he eats all the trips of the unfortunate lying on the ground.

When he leaves the  ring, the "Zombie" provokes a wave of panic such as the young light man will drop his stick of light. The darkness adds still to the ambient madness.

Although numerous spectators saw him several times fighting with the same opponent, for them it’s not over till it’s over. The wrestlers even pretend to wonder that the Americans, who imported the discipline in the 1970s, can choreograph or arrange their fights. Fetishs are simply more powerful. The proof?

"The Congolese Kele Kele Lituka gave the American EL Greco a hiding in the 1970s", retorts Master Douglas, of the Kinshasa wrestling East League. Kele Kele Lituka, a Congolese traditional wrestler from Kisangani, would have adopted and popularized the "Zairian style" wrestling in the 1980s, supported by the famous coach Nador, who exported it to Congo Brazzaville.

"Everything is going to change", "Top - command", " Warriors Club", "The best new generation" … There are tens of clubs in Kinshasa today that contest for belts and the favor of the public since the withdrawal of the famous Edingwe, for years the titleholder of DRC. The professionals earn their income from sponsored events and tournaments in Angola or in nearby Congo Brazzaville. Several political parties also use the popularity of the wrestlers for propaganda purposes, decking them out with the flag of the party during the fights. A few months before the elections, these appropriations abound. As Simon, sponsor and honorary president of the Warriors club of Ndjili, explains: "witch doctors take up your spirit: it is as if it would go on a journey".