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Wrestling in Ancient Nubia

17 April 2012 6 Comments

It’s been a while since I’ve posted on the site. Apologies! Hopefully as the world gears up for the Olympic Games and begins inspecting their origins in Greece and their home countries, more information on traditional styles will be uncovered.

The following piece is from Scott T. Carroll, Assistant History Professor at Gordon College, who spent years researching the origin of Nubain wrestling, something he claims reaches back to the earliest records of Ancient Egypt and some of whose physical traditions live on unmolested.

An excerpt:

According to an oral tradition, the Nuba began wrestling in order to imitate certain species of monkeys which were abundant in the hill country. The young monkeys played by trying to overthrow each other.(31) The Nuba wrestlers imitate certain animal and insect characteristics while wrestling. Like a baboon or monkey threatening its foe, the Nuba will rub his hands on the ground; (and it helps his grip). He stamps his feet and roars like a bull. Flicking his tongue and moving his fingers like a large flying insect, the Nuba dances into the ring, not as a man, but representing the spirit of his cattle herd.(32)

The Nuba wrestling matches are quite thrilling. The spectators enthusiastically cheer for their village heroes. Oskar and Horst Luz, while studying the Nuba, wrote an exciting description of how the matches were fought:

“A wrestler dances into the ring, looks challengingly around, assumes a fighting stance, elbows on his knees-and waits. Whoever accepts the summons enters the ring. . . . Now the two men take measure of each other, crouching, wary, flexing bulging biceps. To over awe the opponent, they whirl with springy steps, shake arms and shoulders, limber up, and ripple their muscles. One wrestler darts forward, taps his head, feints probingly, backs away, flicks his tongue in and out, advances again. The easy graceful movements resemble advance. The adversary springs forward, reaches down, tries to seize his opponent’s legs. The two grapple, arms coiled around each other. One lifts his opponent and attempts to throw him to the ground, but the other, catlike, lands on his feet. It is only a momentary reprieve. A quick fake, a rush, another clinch, another lift-and this victim is slammed on his buttocks to the ground. Next match!”(33)
For the full piece including videos click here.


  • Mark said:

    One of my workout buddies here is convinced that Nubian wrestling is the foundation of what we see in the Olympics today.

    He believes that Nubian wrestling moved north by following the trade routes and fishing routes of the Nile River. Then, after reaching Egypt, the strong economic/trading force that was Egypt brought the sport throughout southern Europe within the trading ports of the Mediterranean Sea.

    Samuel believes that what Greco-Roman wrestling has become is just a few changes (and a few eons) away from ancient Nubian wrestling.

  • Diesel said:

    Any video of actual matches?

  • Mark said:


    Sadly, as The NYT’s Nicholas Kristof reported earlier this month, the Nubian people whose culture is depicted here, are struggling for survival.

    • Mark said:


      As The NYT’s Nicholas Kristof reported earlier this month, the Nubian people whose culture is depicted on WR, are struggling for survival.

      A big part of why Wrestling Roots exists is to promote cultural preservation. Sadly, the concern now is for the protection of an entire population of people.

      As WR has noted on our website, historically, Nubian wrestling was used to bring peace between tribes in conflict. Arguments between peoples were decided by wrestling to avoid the use of weapons.

      Wrestling has no chance against war planes.

  • Mark said:

    Nope, I don’t think we can be 100% sure of the link from Nubian to Greco-Roman wrestling today. But, the similarities are there; much like the similarities I noticed between modern day Greco-Roman and Tigel when competing in the festival in Ethiopia a few months ago.

    I believe what we see today is a blending of quite a few different forms of wrestling. These forms evolve as people and cultures interact with other people and cultures. The evolution of the forms of wrestling in Africa is not unlike the evolution of the forms of wrestling that started in Persia, then migrated to the Indian subcontinent.

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