JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN—South Sudan is holding 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 Saturday morning.
Traditional wrestling is hugely popular here. Four teams from different tribes will compete in the tournament to bring home prizes of cattle, and national bragging rights.
The tournament is also about showing that different South Sudanese tribes can bring peace after more than two years of war divided the country along ethnic lines.
Peter Biar Ajak, CEO of South Sudan Wrestling Entertainment, which organized the event, said South Sudan’s leaders have 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 way, of bringing peace to South Sudan, a wave of peace at a grassroots level,” Ajak explained.
Ajak said the last wrestling tournament in Juba began on December 14, 2013, one day before war broke out.
“It was sorrowful that people came to Juba to promote peace, to promote their culture to promote peaceful coexistence, and then they were interrupted by conflict,” Ajak said. “So this morning I was very excited that we managed to go ahead to start the tournament, and to launch the match, and that it has happened peacefully and successfully.”
Promoting peace through wrestling
In Saturday’s match, the Bor Dinka tribe defeated the Mundari after 15 rounds. The two tribes 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 explained.
Bor Dinka wrestler Manyok Mapel Lual said he felt happy to wrestle after so long.
“You know since the war broke out in 2013, we are facing difficulties, and when we come to an end we shall be happy, so we want the show to the people that we accepted the peace,” Lual added.
The tournament will last one week.