Congo's Unique Enchantment Wrestling

Hi all, I hope you are all keeping well and safe during this time. So I'm just going to get straight into it; you're probably here because you saw the thread on twitter. This blog post is about what they call "Catch Fetichè" in Congo DRC. This is a cross between wrestling as you would have seen on WWF / WWE , with many inspirations drawn from the fighting styles of popular wrestler of the '80's, Hulk Hogan. Combined with a very unusual method of combat: "voodoo".Catch fetiche takes place mainly in the streets of Kinshasa but some events take place in arenas across DRC. I feel like I have to address this, it is not the acts shown that is captivating about this. It is the fact that this is actually taking place in the middle of a bustling city centre mainly in Kinshasa, and other surrounding cities and it is considered a regular form of entertainment for some people. For me, discovering it alone kind of gave me chills. When you read this post, it almost makes you think "is this real?" because it seems that it was unheard of before networks like VICE decided to take their cameras over there and do a mini-documentary about it. The annoying thing is, there are probably many secrets around this sport, hence why you cannot really find takes and perspectives on voodoo wrestling on the internet. But despite all the things in this blog post, I guarantee you would want to know more about how this sport is able to function in the 21st century. It almost seems like something like this can ONLY happen in Congo lol my people are really, something else.

This might be a comfy read, so make sure you have something to sip on just in case your jaw drops like mine did when I saw this!

Enchantment Wrestling Origins

Embracing fetichè was one of the affects of the early reign of former Congolese president Mobutu Sese Seko (Nov 1965 - May 1997) who encouraged traditional religions. This was during the time when Congo DRC was actually named 'Zaire' by Mobutu. He did this because he did not want to carry the name he felt was given by the colonisers (Belgians) and felt like it was part of a wide strategy to establish the country's unique identity. Nonetheless, the details of Mobutu's reign is an entirely different commotion.

It was the teachings or campaign that Mobutu lead in Zaire that is still undeniably one of the most influential in African history. One way that his legacy has manifested in Congo today would be the Catch Fetichè or Voodoo Wrestling, which has been renamed 'Enchantment Wrestling' in this blog post. The sport took prevalence in the 1980's during Mobutism, where individuals in Zaire were returning back to their roots, it was also referred to as "retour à l'authenticité" in French. It is not that Mobutu told them to use traditional religions in their sports, but the Zaireans did not want to do things in the expected way of the Westerners that they saw on TV. They elevated it by incorporating traditional fighting methods, although sometimes slabs of concrete are used along with hammers. It is said that sometimes fighters drink concoctions given to them by powerful witch doctors in the ring. I didn’t want to include those images.

Below is a short clip of a man who practices enchantment wrestling in Congo DRC, taken from the VICE documentary. He is speaking about the effects of Mobutism on his perspective of the sport now.

In Mobutu's attempt to break from colonial rule and develop the country by relying heavily on indigenous culture (Gargan, 1986) - he went as far as to decree that men and women no longer be referred to as "monsieur" and "mademoiselle" in French, but rather use African names for eachother. He changed the traditional suit and tie style of dressing to wearing a modified chinese style jacket named an 'Abako'. He renamed Leopoldville to Kinshas; some would say his effort to wipe out the traumatic memories of the Congo Free State was the furthest attempt to do so in Africa. Other countries stopped at renaming capital cities from colonial names to traditional ones, but Mobutu's influence was so strong, it still presents itself in peculiar events like Catch Fetiche. This is just another way of people rejecting the traditional western entertainment approach to sports like wrestling. For the competitors, they offer the crowd an enchanted and electric fighting experience.

Communal effects of Enchantment Wrestling

Congolese religious leaders say that they are not against the sport of wrestling, but it should be practiced without the fetiche because “magic is of the devil”, they do not condone using traditional religions and practically doing black magic to crowds of people. But even though there are obvious issues with the sport if you are a religious person for example Christian or Muslim, it is still insanely popular. Wrestlers cannot even walk through places without being mobbed by startled fans on the streets of Kinshasa.

But wrestling goes deeper than the performance element and traditional ties to the fighters. For many of them, training to practice Catch can lead to jobs as security guards or opportunities to fight professional and provide for their families and communities. Many professional fighters have committed their lives to teaching younger kids the fighting part of the sport, in hopes that one day they can use the skills they learn to better their lives.

Female Empowerment

It is not only men that practice Catch Fetiche; in the last couple of decades, it has opened doors for women to do exactly the same. In the community, there are women who have made a living off of the sport and have been able to share their skills with other women, who are looking for a better life. Not only is it good for the women who train for Catch because they can defend themselves; it is also a form of empowerment for these women, making them feel strong and it helps them to know that in the Catch Fetiche ring, they could have their victory over men. In the sport, there is no longer division between sexes, a man can get into the ring with a woman. Because remember, it is not just about how strong they are physically, it is about how strong their magic is too. Honestly, this seems totally insane right? But the women seem even more fearless than the men, take a look at this clip below.

For example, a female wrestler named Shakira says that if she faces an intense fight, she may not be able to win without her ancestors assisting her. They give her the ability to win fights, and they are her last hope if her technique is failing. The women also use the fetiche heavily during their fights, to help them get victory over their male opponents.

For a lot of the young women who want to get involved with it, it is a way of helping their families where education couldn’t go further. But the women of Kinshasa are lucky to have former wrestling championship holder Miss Marth, who has opened a centre in to train young women and help them to follow in her footsteps to get into boxing. In the Vice documentary, she spoke about how wrestling has put clothes on her back and fed her, she has built her entire life from the income that she earns from it, which gives younger women a sense of purpose and hope, as DRC is surely not an easy place to be a woman after a long history of violence and rape.

But even though some may not have bad intentions behind it, many people who wish to get into wrestling are frowned upon for its frequent association with being a witch or practising magic, it can go as far as their families abandoning them, especially if they are church goers. In communities where every one has time to watch what you are doing, you really have to be committed to the cause and live by it like these women have chosen to do. It is not a conventional women's sport, so their love for it overpowers all of the stigma that they face.

I wish there were more out there about this sport, but would I ever attend a live match? No :) I know it might seem bizarre to some people, but my job is to present things to you that I see and find interesting! So, I hope you enjoyed this post, feel free to tweet me your opinions about this, maybe you know more, or maybe you do not believe it to be true? For more background, here's a link to the vice documentary that I watched and also where the clips are from, it is short but really captivating:

Follow me on twitter @ssozinha__ and subscribe to this website click HERE. Thank you for reading. Take care and stay safe.

- SS