Wizards of the boxing ring – Kinshasa 2010

Their name? City Train, Texas, Mabokotomo, Petit Cimetière, Sibolite or Zombie de Kibami. Their job? During the day they run a stall or drive a taxi. In the evening they put on their mask and loin cloth and become characters in one of the planet’s most off-beat sports : Congolese wrestling. In 2008 Kinshasa is still one of the densest and busiest cities on the continent. Eight million inhabitants from all corners of the country have come here to seek refuge, a job, a family. In the perpetual shambles, everyone gets by, adapts, invents in order to survive. This is how wrestling in Zaire was born twenty or so years ago and was logically renamed Congolese wrestling after Mobutu fell. Even though there are hundreds of wrestlers throughout the country, the majority of them are based in Kinshasa. Inspired by American wrestling which is shown on television all day long, this discipline is as far from the big business of Los Angeles wrestling as the spirit world is from the physical one. Spirit… or rather spirits. The uniqueness of this sport is that magic isn’t outside the ring but in it. Each fighter uses black magic. In the suburbs of Kinshasa, in the rickety rings, muscular collision and technical tricks are only preliminary moves. The fight, the real fight, will be between opponent’s spells. This kind of show is loved by thousands of street children, or ‘shégués’. Many ‘shégués’ fight in the ring. In this resourceful country, wrestling is an alternative to the street and sometimes even helps people find work. Wrestling, and its surrounding beliefs command either respect or fear : two assets in a city as crowded and poor as Kinshasa