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Let the Games Begin! - Ram Fighting and Sallah

By morayooshodi on 15 Oct, 2013

Every year, Muslim families across Nigeria celebrate Eid el-Kabir. An age-long festival which has its roots in the Koranic story of Prophet Ibrahim, it marks the kindness of Allah to mankind. During the festivities, Muslims distribute food and drink to their neighbours, with roasted ram meat as the big attraction. But in this part of the world, rams are for more than eating. No Sallah – especially not in Lagos State – is complete without a ram wrestling competition. That’s right: rams duking it out WWF-style to the cheers of excited crowds. Youths in every community drag their biggest, wildest ram to neighbours’ compounds, boasting about their animals’ toughness, and challenging everyone in sight, before roasting them for eating.

Ram wrestling in Nigeria dates back to the nineteenth century, and has been passed on from one generation of youths to another. As a secondary school student in 1968, my father excitedly watched rams battling it out at the Ajele area near Campos Square in Lagos Island. Formerly a game played by teenagers and frowned at by parents, it is now regulated by an organised body, the Ram Sports Promoters Association of Nigeria (RSPAN). To see how people exclaim in excitement over these rams, you would think they were watching The Rock taking on Goldberg. Passers-by stop to cheer on competitors, and the owners of the livestock place bets to bolster their Sallah feast budgets. Once a ram surrenders to its opponent in weakness, it is immediately replaced with another ram and taken home to rest so that it doesn’t die before Sallah, while the victorous ram and its owner are hailed as champions. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Le7xb11IMos Several years ago my brothers travelled from Lagos to Kano to purchase a ram. The creature was massive, with white and brown fur and a mean look. He could have probably butted a human being to death. We called him “The Wuda,” the term used by ram vendors to refer to that particular breed of sheep. In the build-up to Sallah, my brothers took him out every evening for wrestling and they made a pretty penny, as Wuda was very tough and knocked out every ram that came his way. A day before Sallah, as Wuda was resting quietly in a corner of the compound, we heard a chaotic knocking at our gate. A crowd of people bearing a heavy ram crowded outside. They had heard about our ram and had come from quite a distance to challenge us. My brothers, of course, could not resist seeing Wuda fight one more battle. The fight was epic and lasted a long time, and the judges, in the end, had to call the match a draw. It was a glorious end for Wuda, who ended the next day as the centrepiece of delicious feast. Have you ever witnessed a ram fight? How is Eid el-Kabir celebrated where you're from? Share with us in the comments!

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