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Bakweri Traditional Wrestling (Pala-Pala), Show Of Bravery
Category :- Culture & Society Author :- BY FRIDA LEYINA & ARREY BATE ARREY 
Posted on July 4, 2017, 12:45 pm
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They take pride in celebrating their cultural heritage during events such as Pala Pala, the Race of Hope (one which involves performing secret rituals to bless the mountain), the Malle dance and canoe race which is mostly conducted in the coastal areas of the region. Pala-pala is one of their most popular sporting event which has over the years been both recreational and a uniting factor among neighboring villages. This activity is as old as the Bakweri tribe itself. It encompasses all the qualities the Bakweri have inherited from their ancestors: physical endurance, agility, fierce fighting techniques and a great sense of competition. Wrestling is known as “Wesuwa” and is taken very seriously by the entire community. In the past, it used to be an important way of determining leadership among villages; it even resulted in a war between two villages in 1891, when people from Ghango burnt down the Molonde village in revenge after the death of their best wrestlers.

Today, it is a friendly competition drawing a huge crowd from all over the region, usually every Sunday for eight weeks in February and March. Every village gathers their best wrestlers in a major contest to see who has the best fighters with athletes showing off their fighting prowess. Each village is the host of the wrestling for one day. Even contemporary Young wrestlers who inherited the gene from their forefathers get into the field as it is an outright showcase of bravery and a measure of strength. Historically, Bakweri Traditional Wrestling (pala-pala) started years ago as a result of an argument that erupted between two friends. Their quest to test each other’s strength led to an open challenge where both decided to get into a wrestling bout. In   the process, the one who succeeded to put the others back to the ground was declared a winner. This was how pala-pala began with those rules constituting an integral part of the game.

Till date, many other Bakweri cultural activities which started informally are now crowd pulling events among the Bakweri people. A match between two villages starts when all the contestants wearing skimpy sarongs meet in the middle of the large expanse of grass which forms the wrestling pitch. The wrestlers tease each other by making threat gestures and challenge into a nail-biting fight. A contestant wins the bout by throwing his opponent on his back or by or forcing him flat on this stomach. To set the atmosphere, drummers on an elevated stage beat intricate rhythms on large log drums throughout the match while the crowds roar and shout encouragement to the wrestlers. The setting is magnificent; the villages are surrounded by dense and lush vegetation with Mount Cameroon towering in the background over the wrestling field and glimpses of the ocean can be seen on the horizon.

The contest culminates with the announcement of the year’s champion wrestler, who is then carried among the spectators with loud acclamations accompanied by traditional songs and dances performed by cheerleaders and elder tribeswomen. Officials charged with organizing “pala pala” say the sport is an all-embracing activity, open to every man or woman strong enough to wrestle, provided they adhere to the rules and regulations. The sport has grown over the years with foreigners from Europe who have participated, beating local wrestlers in some instances. Its popularity has equally grown even among the women who had considered it an activity reserved for men. As a result, female wrestlers like Ndollo Rebecca have come to the lamplight. The latter has taken the flag of the Southwest Region and Cameroon to distant places representing it in many competitions. In fact, Apollo who started amateur wrestling now takes it as an active profession. For males, a good number of Bakweri traditional wrestlers have triggered the crowd and created much impact in their milieu, some of which have traveled to the land of no return. One like Moni from Limbe is said to have terrorized the entire Southwest Region with his skill. His presence in a wrestling pitch brought complete panic to his opponent who would fall prey to his waiting muscles. Others like Moki from Bokwai, Leowa and Mbella Nganda were all barons whose fighting skills were worth commending. Usually their matches pulled the highest number of people in and out of the region. The sport has grown to develop five different categories: junior wrestlers (5-10years), cadets (10-17years) and the senior category comprised of the muscular men meanwhile the women also have a junior and senior category.

Speaking to Legideon Magazine, the President of Fako Division Wrestling Bureau, Mr. Ewome Joseph Njie, credited wrestling as an enviable cultural activity considering the crowd it pulls on each occasion. The event brings together elites, chiefs and lovers of culture under one canopy to watch villagers make bouts on others. Till date, its uniting power cannot be underestimated. Traditional wrestling playgrounds during tournaments even serve as a platform for business people and traders who earn a lot from the ready market the sport gathers. A wrestling official affirmed that many men have had their wives on wrestling pitches. Research proves that in the Bakweri culture, many women turn to fall in love with muscular men and during wrestling tournaments, it is common to find young girls hovering around a champion.

Commenting on the rhythms during wrestling tournaments, Mr. Ewome said that wrestling is considered more of a battle than just a game, reason why most of its songs are battle songs. “Even the message is a call for battle to the wrestler. Usually, the village that tunes the song first is sending a warning signal to its opponents saying their wrestler is ready. In all, every war or wrestling song has a meaning”. As the game of wrestling remains an interesting and an all-embracing activity, there is the need for the exercise to remain healthy and safe for all concerned. Interestingly, we found out that Traditional Wrestling differs from the modern-day wrestling. Unlike modern day wrestling which is done on soft decorated platforms, Pala Pala is conducted on a hard surface and there is the possibility of injury at any time. “If you are going to wrestle then you have a back to fall with and you must be prepared to fall. Local pitches are used for wrestling so the Wrestler does not cajole his opponent” added Mr. Ewome. Organizers of the event have however taken some measures to mitigate health complications like broken body parts that come as a result of wrestling on these hard surfaces. This brought about a new rule where a wrestler is declared a winner if he succeeds to bundle his opponent up to the shoulder level without throwing him to the ground.

Mr. Ewome however, regretted that most of the traditional sporting activities of the Bakweri like the famous “Iwvati” sport have gone extinct. He holds the opinion that these cultural sporting activities are worth promoting and is encouraging lovers of sports to venture into the sporting activity especially as it is a strength-proven action. He further decried young people who fight on the streets and beer parlors, urging them to come to the wrestling pitch and show their power.

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