Who are the wrestlers of Dakar – and why are they trying to win over a fighting matriarch called ‘Madame Tyson’?

A single dream is uniting young men across Senegal: to make it as a professional wrestler. Traditional wrestling, or ‘laamb’, is big money in the north west African country and a national sport – surpassing even football in popularity.

Matches take place in great open-air arenas where fighters and spectators enact rituals that date back hundreds of years. Galacticos of the sport can earn up to $100,000 per fight – so it’s no surprise many men in Dakar and beyond are forming wrestling guilds and training for hours every day to earn their place among the sport’s elite fighters.

The latest film in Al Jazeera’s ‘Witness’ series, Wrestling in Dakar, has delved into the reality of chasing this dream, focussing on five friends determined to catch the eye of an enigmatic wrestling matriarch – Madame Ndeye Ndiaye Tyson. In a male-dominated sport, she is one of Senegal’s leading wrestling promoters, and wannabe wrestlers Thiam, Lamine, Abdou, Cissokho and M’Baye are all fighting to win the one contract she has on offer. Watch the full feature length film below.

Despite admitting to being “on the verge of exploding with frustration” during the film’s production process, director Edward Porembny says he never entertained the idea of giving up.

“I wanted to learn why wrestling evoked such passion in Senegal today. I saw some cultural parallels with Poland, where I come from originally, and I found in the Senegalese the same pride and desire for success that I found with the Polish.

“While Africa can often evoke images of misery and conflict in the media, this documentary film also shows the positive aspects and interests of ordinary Senegalese people.

“With themes of love, hate, hopes, disillusions and convictions, this documentary is an invitation to a colourful, artful world and a reflection of human nature in a society forced to constantly fight.”

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