Rival Tribes Choose Wrestling Over War
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South Sudan sponsored a “wrestling for peace” tournament, bringing together athletes from around the country. The last big tournament was canceled when civil war broke out in December 2013.
With chests bare and leopard skins tied around their waists, 30 South Sudanese wrestlers marched into Juba stadium in April 2016. Four teams from different tribes competed to take home prizes of cattle and bragging rights.
Traditional wrestling is hugely popular in the country. The tournament also was about showing that different South Sudanese tribes can find peace after more than two years of war that divided the country along ethnic lines.
Peter Biar Ajak, CEO of South Sudan Wrestling Entertainment, which organized the event, said South Sudan’s leaders had been too slow to end the civil war. He said it was time ordinary folks did so themselves through sport.
“We felt the people of South Sudan need peace, and we start mobilizing as young people from different tribes that we are going to host a wrestling tournament as a way, as our own way, of bringing peace to South Sudan, a peace at grass-roots level,” Ajak said.
The Bor Dinka and Mundari tribes participating in the tournament have a history of deadly conflict over pasture and cattle. Bor Dinka coach Chol Jok said bringing young men of the two tribes together to wrestle can prevent violence.
“When you are wrestling with somebody, and you go and dance with him, eat with him, this one will be your friend, and then you sit together and you play everything with him, and then there’s no fighting again,” he said.