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Congolese wrestlers – Kinshasa, 2011-2013

Kinshasa is a stormy and turbulent city. Those who lay down their hats at Ngili airport, harassed by border guards, porters and scalpers still have to pass the administrative hassles and fight to get a taxi and understand what turbulent means. Crowded bars, small boutiques and crappy hostels surround the main road to the city centre. Hundreds of vehicles pile up in a huge traffic jam where pedestrians, cyclist and bikers wriggle into. The sweat and dust stick to your skin. Noise is everywhere: the humming noise of engines mixed with zouk music played by old radio speakers.  The Congolese roar is astonishing. And the voodoo wrestling is probably the most striking expression of this daily madness.


I encountered this thrilling spectacle by accident when I was shooting a project about mining in the province of Katanga. In the former flourishing colonial town of Kolwezi, a car passed by with a wrestler standing on top. On the banger roof, a half naked face-painted man, was dancing to a bellowing orchestra. A group of street kids was following the motorcade in a dust cloud. I thought this subject would reveal a fun and positive side to a country hurt by war and poverty. The wrestling matches are a far cry from the horror, and provide escapist excitement for people living in the poorer neighbourhoods of the big cities, predominately in Kinshasa.

Back in the Congolese capital few month later, it didn’t take me long to find those athletes again. If voodoo wrestling is completely unknown in the rest of the world, it’s a very popular spectator pastime in DRC. Most people remind of TV shows where Edingwe, the terrifying hero of the 90’, disembowelling his opponent and then chewing on his insides. From this period raised rumours that persist until today. The powerful black magic from the voodoo afraid many.

I’ve been also hypnotised when I saw it for the first time.  In the dark and muddy streets of Matete district, the atmosphere was warm and full of music. The boxing ring was trembled by the collision between the fighters. But what struck me more than anything was the theatrical performance. Beyond the fetish and other magic objects, the Congolese wrestlers were fantastic actors. Authentic showmen, doing magic dance and physical exploit to hold the public spellbound. I was myself on the edge of my seat.

This urban theatre circled by a rope is copying after traditional dance as much as the pantomime histrionics of American wrestling. It is properly a combination of both. Inspired by what they saw on TV, they managed to combine two disciplines that seemed to come from opposite spectrums to create a new one: voodoo wrestling, an artistic as well as athletic performance.