Igba Ngba (Traditional Wrestling)

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Igba Ngba (wrestling) is one of the ancient practices in igbo culture. The Ngwa people, a very big tribe in Abia state, Nigeria, is not left out. Wrestling, which is a paramount aspect of the Ngwa culture, is a mind-blowing exercise to watch and enjoy.

Occasionally, wrestling festivals and competitions are help in the villages and guests are invited to come and watch and be entertained. Sometimes prizes are attached to the wrestling matches to make it more interesting and the winners leave with their prize.

The significance of igba ngba in Ngwa

Wrestling was so significant that it was used to achieve social status before men and women. The stronger you are, the more respect you stand to gather in the society. Wrestlers were seen as the most eligible men.

Igba ngba serves as a means of entertainment and relaxation, especially for the women who seemed to relish the occasion the most because they often swooned and admired the strong and healthy men, and used the wrestling competitions as an avenue to identify these men as preferred marriage suitors.

The wrestling competitions can foster a sense of friendship and brotherhood between competing villages. It also encourages the camaraderie between other communities that visit to watch the match.

The participants of wrestling match

There are a number of key participants who contribute to the success of the wrestling matches. They include

  1. The wrestlers: the number of contestants is not fixed, if you are challenged, you are expected to accept the challenge.
  2. The musical ensemble: comprises of at least 4 drummers, musicians and dancers.
  3. The referee: who calls out the contestants and closely follow them as they wrestle each other to determine the winners.
  4. The spectators: they cheer the contestants on and a few of them also control the crowd.

The wrestling match

The number of contestants that will wrestle at a match are not exactly fixed. One contestant comes out to challenge opponents from the opposing team, community or village. Wrestlers were trained to abstain from sex at least a week before every contest.

The first wrestler springs onto the arena at will and throws challenges at opponents. If a man refused a challenge, the challenger collects sand in his palm, rubs it against his buttocks, and pours it on the coward, or he is permitted to pull at the weakling’s hair.

If a challenge is accepted, the contest begins. During these hot contests, in which their muscles are taut and stretched to breaking points, the wrestler who passes over his opponent’s back has defeated him.

If one wrestler lifts his opponent very high, with his legs above the ground, he was said to have won and is unanimously declared the winner. If both wrestlers fall on the ground simultaneously, on both sides, it was known as Ibe Ogbara. In the case where they had wrestled for too long, and they refused to throw each other down, they would either repeat it or be separated.

The Nkwa Mgba (wrestling ensemble)

The Nkwa Mgba is the most accomplished musical ensemble in Ngwaland, and keeps the wrestling arena charged with their music. This energizes the atmosphere, evoking a strong masculine feeling in the contestants’ blood, and fills their bones and marrows with renewed energy and vigor to contest.

The drums of the Nkwa Mgba are arranged in linear order and are about ten. They have the bass, tenor, treble and alto ranges. These drums were made of animal skins (akpukpo anu), usually from a bush animal called Mgbada. The next instruments were the wooden gong , rattle, the metal gong (igbugo) and the drumming sticks.

The drummers are not less than four. These drums were well arranged in parts. While the energetic beating of the drums rent the air, holding it captive and charged, the chief drummer who is very skillful, uses the drum to call out the names of the wrestlers and warn the potential contestants of how adroit they were.

Meanwhile, a group of lively youths would wave the palm fronds in the air to keep off the crowd from trespassing and launching themselves into the wrestling arena. This was called Ichaamamgba.

The benefits of igba ngba

In the olden days, traditional wrestling was even a method of measuring a young man’s worthiness and readiness for marriage. Wrestling competitions would be held amongst the young men in a community and the winner is considered the most eligible bachelor. The community winners can decide to go further to compete against themselves to have an overall winner in the entire village.

During the wrestling competition period, you can almost feel the excitement in the air as the participants prepare physically for the match. Most often, you will find spectators placing bets on their favorite or potential winners.

Asides the prestige that comes with winning the competition, there are also prizes to be won including foodstuffs like yams, dry fish etc and monetary gifts.

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