Local sports in Bauchi State are organized to embody communal spirit, and few do so more than the kokowa, a folk wrestling tourney after the harvest, during the dry season. In preparation for the event, famed wrestlers move around the villages, their praises sung by musician and marabouts, until they assemble in the square, where two of them would engage each other in a display of strength.
Across the West African subregion, this form of wrestling is widespread but known by different names. “Kokowa” is an Hausa word. In Senegal, it is called laamb; in The Gambia, boreh; in Togo, evala; and in Niger and Burkina Faso, it is known in French as lute traditionnelle, the name that is used for it internationally. The wrestling practices vary from region to region: in Senegal, for instance, the laamb allows punching; but in Nigeria, the punching component was eventually moved to the popular dambe boxing. In the 1990s, the wrestling consolidated into an international championship, called the Championship of African Lutte Traditionnelle, which takes place during the Jeux de la Francophonie.
The kokowa is held in a traditional ring: usually circular and for occasions closed by sand bags. The wrestlers grapple to either remove each other from the ring or to throw each other. Once knocked off their feet, or onto both knees, a wrestler is defeated. The same ring is used for the dambe boxing.
In 2008, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) oversaw its debut tournament for the wrestling form. It was won by Nigeria, the first time an Anglophone country, aside The Gambia, had won such a contest.
The kokowa contest is a major attraction at the annual Bauchi State Festival of Arts and Culture (BAFEST).
Otosirieze Obi-Young is Editor of Folio Nigeria, where he profiles innovators and facilitators in culture: art, business, entertainment, activism, health, food. He is a writer, journalist, curator, media consultant, former academic, and Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Open Country Mag, a new online platform covering African literature. In 2019, he received the inaugural The Future Awards Africa Prize for Literature. In 2020, he was named among "The 100 Most Influential Young Nigerians" by Avance Media. Find him on otosirieze.com or on Twitter & Insta: @otosirieze.