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Day 35: Dakar

Michael Palin - SaharaHe talks of the popularity of the sport, which is second only to football in Senegal, and it's clear that this man who can fill stadiums is only here tonight to encourage the young local boys. The entourage closes in again, someone finds me a Coke and I escape outside for a breather.

The ringside is filling up and the ring is full of leaping, strutting, chasing and grappling children mimicking their heroes. The night-time chill reminds me of the desert. It must have been around 35°C/95°F on the streets of Dakar this afternoon. Now it's cool enough to pull on a sweater.

Mor Fadan asks me to sit beside him during the fights. This is quite a moment for a shy boy from Sheffield, entering the ring and being introduced to the local mafia as Mor's new bosom buddy, but there's still no sign of any serious grappling taking place.

The contestants are parading around the ring in a rhythmic dance, all linked together and kicking their feet out in a sort of macho hokey-kokey. Then, one after the other, they approach the thudding drums and dance up against them, rhythm fighting rhythm, as they strut their aggressive poses, kicking the sand like angry
elephants. The drummers, stripped to the waist and glistening like contestants themselves, keep up a relentless, brain-scouring beat.

A couple of comperes work the crowd, screaming themselves hoarse, urging, exhorting, praising, joking. It's after midnight when the local politicians, bigwigs and worthies make their appearance, all anxious to clutch, and be seen to be clutching, the champion's hand.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 35
  • Country/sea: Senegal
  • Place: Dakar
  • Book page no: 114

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