Wrestlers are more famous than footballers in Senegal earning up to £200,000 and using rituals, potions and amulets to secure victory. Christian Bobst follows the Dakar superstars from the beaches where they train to the roar of the arena
Christian Bobst, a Swiss photographer, travelled to Dakar in Senegal to document the battles of the ‘gris gris’ wrestlers, who draw on mystical forces to gain an edge on their rivals. Due to high temperatures in the day, competitions always take place in the evening and often last until midnight.
In the shot of the gym above, competitors train at the school of the ex-wrestler Balla Gaye. Few can afford to train here, so less wealthy contenders head to the beaches of Ngor in Dakar, on the Atlantic coast.
Kherou Ngor washes himself with milk at Ngor. He performs this ritual to draw on the strength of a ghost who lives in the stones on the seashore.
Magic in the air
Rituals performed by marabouts – local holy men – include washing chickens, mixing potions and using plant milk as an offering to make the wrestlers invincible. The wrestlers also adorn ‘gris gris’ amulets for luck.
A poster advertises a clash between Balla Gaye 2 and Eumeu Sene, two superstars of the sport. As well as fame, success can lead to a steady job in the security industry or as a wrestling trainer.
Bandleader Adam Ngom cheers the audience on in the Demba Diop stadium. Every fight is accompanied by drumming, even at small village matches, where wrestlers dance into a trance.
Two wrestlers line up in the small Adrien Senghor village arena in the Yoff district. The prize money for the winner in this tournament is about £4,600; the biggest fights can net the winner more than £200,000.
BB Bismi Ndoye defeats Maraka Dji in the Demba Diop stadium. Fights last between 90 seconds and 15 minutes; one variation features bare-knuckle boxing as well as traditional wrestling moves.
Balla Gaye 2 releases pigeons before his fight against Sene, as a ritual to bring luck.
Below, the audience and press storm the arena to celebrate a winner in the Iba Mar Diop stadium in Dakar. Bobst was awarded a 2016 World Press award for this series, and was a finalist in LensCulture’s 2015 visual storytelling award.