Long before the coming of the missionaries into Nigeria, Nigerians had already developed their way of life including sports and entertainment. One of such sport is traditional wrestling. In the Igbo speaking tribe of South East Nigeria, traditional wrestling is a popular sport.
In Igbo land, traditional wrestling helps to promote indigenous norms, values, culture, traditions and by language and as well it is a practice and recognition of strength and skill amongst both males and females.
Traditional wrestling is sometimes used to determine the man who will marry a young woman who has many woman wooing her. Therefore In such cases, a competitive wrestling match is organized where all the suitors slug it out and whoever is victorious eventually married the woman. At times, traditional wrestling is used to settle local conflicts and disputes between two villages.
It also serves as a form of entertainment whereby the village head (chief) and his chieftains are seated and the villagers also gather at the village square to watch and be entertained. A young man who emerges victorious in any traditional wrestling match is respected and admired by all. He is subsequently seen as a unique and distinguished wrestler and a warrior. Before wrestling competitions begin, both young women and men would have been training for months. This is to ensure they are optimum shape for the competitions.
Traditional wrestling matches are fought in traditional rings which bear little semblance to European rings. The traditional ring is filled with sand which helps to cushion the effect of any fall. A flute player is also available to play inspiration tunes that encourage and revitalize the weak during the matches as spectators also abound to encourage and cheer the wrestlers.
In Igbo land before the Nigerian civil war, four wrestling styles were practiced by women and girls. In Ehugbo community, there were 4 different occasions during the year when female wrestling competitions were held. This Igbo traditional female wrestling is referred to as Mgba Umunwanyi.
These 4 different occasions are as follows:
– Mgba Akpukpa
– Mgba Uzo Iyi
– Igba Suba
– Ocho events.
1. Mgba Akpukpa – Corn or maize is referred to as akpukpa, ikpapka or oka. This particular wrestling competition bears its name because it holds during July and early August when the main foodstuff is maize.
2. Mgba Uzo Iyi – This literally translates as wrestling that takes place on the path to the stream. This wrestling contest is restricted to majorly newly married women of a group of compounds or married women of each village.
3. Igba Suba – This particular type of wrestling which has gained popularity among girls takes palce during moonlight plays which occur between March and April. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that Igba Suba means wrestle and stand. It was used as a character moulding device to serve as a deterrent to any girl who engages in misbehavior judged as unbecoming of a morally upright girl, refuses to take part in moonlight games, shows disobedience or disrespect to her mother’s seniors or age-mates.
4. Ocho – This wrestling contest takes place around the middle of November. It is an annual event in Afikpo restricted to Amachi and Ugwu-egu villages. In this wrestling contest, grown-up girls met and competed for about an hour each in the evenings during 4 consecutive Eke market days.