Nuba Stick Fighting
One of the famous Nuba traditions, well-known from the pictures of George
Rodger and Leni Riefenstahl, is stick-fighting. This is rarely practised today. One of the Nuba tribes most well-known for stick fighting is the Moro.
The Moro area, which is located half-way between Kadugli and Talodi, is occupied by the Moro tribe one of the largest tribes in the Nuba Mountains . The Moro people maintain and practice very ancient traditions as long as they live. There is no way that these traditions , as part of their ancestral heritage, be abandoned.
The stick-fighting is a contest conducted by, as the name indicates, a stick and a shield between two contestants, This sport is always carried out at the end of autumn and the beginning of harvest, and it is completely forbidden during the cultivation season, in case it puts the youths off their work. Stick fighting is part of the ceremonies that follow the harvest, in which thanks is given to God for providing a good harvest. It is embedded in the spiritual traditions of the people.
The fight always begins by an invitation from one tribe to another. The invited tribe may detain the dispatched envoy just for provocation and excitement. The hosts have to make their way to fetch their messengers; and, thereafter, they engage in fighting. Another way of starting the competition is by symbolic provocation. For example, a man, aged 17 - 20 years old, may hold the hands of his rival’s fiancée for a couple of minutes, or cut her bracelets made from beads. When a would-be her husband hears about this, he instantly declares the fight by tying a handkerchief or piece of cloth on his competitor’s house at night, so that the contending should begin in the next morning.
The fight can be between two individual fighters from different villages, or between two villages themselves, fighting collectively.
There are special arenas set aside for this fighting where every athlete arrives with his equipment. Though the sport may be potentially lethal, every fighter ties ribbons of thick cloths or torn blankets around his body to lessen the effects of the stick blows. Some contenders put hats made of seeds or even mud on their heads for protection, and the heads are decorated with butter as indication of great wealth.
While the stick-fighting is performed, girls sing continually, praising one fighter as a bull, a leopard, an elephant or a lion; and, on the other hand, scolding the competitor as a coward, a hooligan and a womaniser.
Since the sport can be fatal, the participants say their prayers before heading
to the assigned squares just in case they may come back as dead bodies. These stick-fighters can be Christians, Muslims or followers of African noble
spiritual beliefs. Before the beginning of the match, human circles are formed and, as a sign for starting the competition, the old or retired fighters initiate the game by skirmishes.
If one of the fighters is badly hurt, he will be compensated with a symbolic reparation, such as cow.
The stick fighting has merits and demerits. Its merits include:
1. It is a means of maintaining social and clan ties, since every one who travels outside the region is keen to return home for the occasion, so that he may not be accused of cowardice.
2. The fighter never commits adultery, nor does he philander with women, to
maintain his stamina.
3. The fighter usually lives with cows in their fence, drinking their milk and looking after them.
4. The most important role of stick fighting is to inculcate the virtues of physical bravery and the ability to withstand pain. A good stick fighter will be a good warrior.
The demerits are:
1. The possibility of mutilation of the fighter’s face.
2. The breaking of his legs or arms that may cause a permanent disability, and even death in some instances.
Because of the dangers of stick fighting, in recent years the South Kordofan Advisory Council has restricted it. The fear is that young men will be injured or killed in this sport. At times of celebration such as SPLA day there are demonstrations of stick fighting but the old-style of combat is now very rarely found.