Contributor's Junior William Deng Opinion


By Junior William Deng,

 South Sudanese audience watching a traditional wrestling match betwee Lual Mawut of Jonglei State and Wernyang of Terekeka State. Wernyang won and Terekeka dominated Jonglei in 4 - 3 victory(Photo: Makuach Mabior/supplied/Nyamilepedia)
South Sudanese audience watching a traditional wrestling match betwee Lual Mawut of Jonglei State and Wernyang of Terekeka State. Wernyang won and Terekeka dominated Jonglei in 4 – 3 victory(Photo: Makuach Mabior/supplied/Nyamilepedia)

May 17th, 2018(Nyamilepedia) — Jieng nation is variably blessed with uncountable ways of expressing happiness or various social aspects of athleticism and artistry; ranging from wrestling, singing, high jump, bat game, dancing and more. Without wasting time beating about the bush, this article gives analyses on “traditional wrestling”. I called it traditional wrestling because it is largely crudely organized by communities and not enterprises like WWE, FIFA organizations or NBA in the Americas. South Sudanese communities are not organized to give wrestling economic value for the betterment of social, economic and political growth. This means that wrestling in Jieng sportsmanship is not economical, it is rather an empty vessel that generates sense of belonging to the community to whom a wrestler is born and source of group pride – in fact a consequential pride.

Jieng Understanding of Wrestling

There are a variety of meanings of wrestling but according to Biordit Aguer, “wrestling is a residue of fighting.”  This gives us direct understanding of what wrestling is about. As we get it from the above definition, it tells us that the two individuals or more who are involved in wrestling do it bitterly tussling over who should win it. It is not full blown fighting but it perpetually generates unhealthy communal feelings leading to repulsive precipitation of social frictions. It also tells us that conducting wrestling requires customary law governing the conduct, exercise, behavior and attitudes of social parties involved. Since fighting is not a luxury among the Jieng people, wrestling should not be mobilized by elders and leaders, it should be understanding between wrestlers and camps that accompany the wrestlers but rested on rules and law.

Let us also get what Compact Oxford Thesaurus says about wrestling. It says that wrestling means to “grapple, fight, struggle, battle, tussle and brawl.” Looking at the two definitions, you will learn that wrestling involves force, contest of interests, injuries and more, it is a battle. We are pretty sure that Thesaurus gives concurrence of wrestling to what Biordit said but it is more explicit about wrestling, saying that it is a battle. We all know that battle is not unless it is fought, won or lost. The wrestling becomes a battle and communities fight to win it. It tells us that each community strategizes in order to win and not to lose. Therefore, interests become incompatible making conflict an option; it may escalate, drop or continues to brew. All sports in the type of our community – a feudal type of community are source of social and political strife. Unless there is politics: authority, control, consensus and coercion. To stop wondering why wrestling is politicized and whether sport and politics are the same, we need to look at politics and sport explanation in political theory.


Politics is violence, sport, discussion, debates, and agreements, cultures, activities, law and institutions. In political theory, politics is violence but it is not that only violence is politics. Politics involves discussions, agreement, debate and argument as well as sport. As we read the definitions above, the Jieng people particularly the pastoralists arguably believe that wrestling is an activity of sport but how is it politics? It is politics in the sense that it involves argument that is emotively bitter or latent. It is a source of social violence and it is a source of social interaction and moreover it is a communal source of pride.

Aristotle in ancient Greece realized that everybody was in politics; people were compulsorily asked to participate in city state political activities such as elections process, voting, demonstrations and political debate. This was a role of every citizen particularly men. Women in Greek society by that time were apolitical. It is this sense Aristotle thought about sport and said that “it is only athleticism where an individual can have self-realization.” This means that individual athlete or wrestler in our situation can work hard and utilize his or her skills to achieve happiness and pecuniary interests but our sportsmen are tribal; crude and primitive. They cannot put wrestling skills into wealth creation and life changing projects. According to Aristotle sport is politics because by the work of sovereign and by way of liberty and freedom, individuals are capable of reaping from sport and by doing so, they pay taxes to the government hence creation of commonwealth, reduction of poverty and improvement of living standards.

Karl Marx on the other hand thinks that sport is a great thing that has happened to humanity but he looked at it in terms of conflict through class relations. His intentions about sport is that it can reduce inequality because it is about skills and physical ability and that it is private and therefore, it can provide shield against the bourgeois class. Sport today is dominated by capitalist machinations. The rich have formed classes who own football clubs, wrestling clubs, basketball clubs, etc. and individual with skills are paid by the owners after surplus value. For Marx it is called exploitation, subjugation and discrimination. He says that the capitalists have taken over sport through “popular entertainment.” Nevertheless sportsmen and sportswomen in Football or in Basketball leagues are filthy rich and many more lives have been changed.

The state of Jieng political community is at tribal formation. People, men, women, children and resources belong to a tribe. The tribe is responsible for the wellbeing of the people for instance, Jieng contribute cows for marriage of an individual person and clan members of the bride receive dowries in disproportional degree making marriage institution tribal. Wrestling otherwise is tribal. So politics is the activities of social, economic and political structures of particular tribe, community or state. We know that these social activities are sanctioned by local political leaders for instance, chief, sub chief or herdsmen who are given authority by traditional leadership. So whatever that happens in the wrestling field is politically Okayed and it is the grand agreement of such community.

Thus, the affinity for which Jonglei people redraw to support their clansmen in wrestling is informed by the development of Jieng tribal formation. Karl Marx says “that at the stage of tribal formation, the dearest thing man can do is to generate huge self-attachment to his tribe”.  We saw Magot, Gongic and Lual clansmen in perpetual violence, emotive arguments and social mobilization. It further tells that if traditional law, customs, norms or mores or the legitimate authority are absence, we can get what Hobbes called “anarchy” – lack of order. Communities may run amok and real violence ensues leading to loss of property, life and pride. Thus, wrestling (sport) is politics. In political theory we call it “micro politics”, it is the same as neighborhood gangs like Ku klux Klan(KKK), Football Club e.g., Liverpool FC, Manchester City FC, Arsenal FC, etc. although wrestling is a member of sport category, Jonglei people have it differently. It is uneconomical game because it is primitive unlike sport in the West. Micro political activities pave way for the development of republics, governments, economies and democracies. Failure to create environment for micro political activities forces government to pay heavily through robberies, money laundering, street gangs, social decadences and political demonstrations. The essence of private property and the right to own property are limited if at all there is development in this perspective. At least you all know that Jieng own property by ways of primitive accumulation particularly subsistence or hand to mouth economic.


Wrestling in Jonglei is a great social activity if at all it does not precipitate frictions but we know that wrestling is politics. And politics generate frictions, violence, peace, argument, discussion and debate. So, what are the contradictions of wrestling? The first is its ability to be mobilized tribally, it makes it a contest between tribes and it is not socially healthy. It has potential to ignite physical violence. Wrestling has led to loss of lives, property, physical injuries, tribal grudges and beak down of families. This is because group attachment is made to it and mistakes are elevated for issues worth fighting hence disorder and destruction. In addition, wrestling is freely watched; that it gives people luxury to attend it and cause chaos. You saw in the recent days that Juba Stadium got filled to the brim. The attendees were not there to watch and enjoy but majority went there to support tribesmen. Even policemen in national uniforms jump, sing and celebrate with tribesmen telling us that they are emotionally attached to their tribes than the state. It is contradictorily pathetic. Wrestlers who get injuries in the exercise end up nursing wounds individually and risk being unproductive for their families. One of the lead wrestlers got dislocation and he will brave it without compensation and he wrestled for pride of the tribe, imagine how hilarious it is. As long as wrestling remains primitive and communal, greater contradictions will be realized.


Solutions are not new but unless the wrestlers and all other athletes realize the economic potential of their skills, ways of solving sport conflict will still be difficult. The first thing is to allow rich people or petty bourgeois to borrow Marx’s word, to form associations and clubs and recruit wrestlers on financial benefits. By doing so, tribal attachment and empty pride will cease and new era of financial liberalization will be realized, persons of interest will seek money and would be able to use skills to own property and will have freedom and liberty to do or buy whatever that pleases them. Sport will create employment: stadia are going to be built, coaches will be required, sport science and medicines will be a new venture. Sport law, code of conduct, rules and regulation will be enacted and conflict generated by sport will be criminal not communal. Politics will mostly be about republic, representative democracy, unitary or federal government, presidential or parliamentary, multiparty system, justice, rule of law, free market or whateverism

In conclusion, sport or wrestling is politics and it is not easy to separate and deal with one without the other. For a country to be stable, it must invest in sport through privatization and open market but with minimal interference of the government. So, the Magot, Lual or Gongic case is not an isolated issue from public or politics, it is the very interest of the communities involved. People are idle and sedentary, people live with uncles or cousins in compounds and depend on single source of income. This is a social malaise, it drives people to be defensive or offensive against other people living in different compounds. As we hope for peace and stability, I hope our people will be more engaged in productive issues that support individual economic improvement and poverty reduction. Wrestling will not always be central to our interactions, politics of roads, health, education and public accountability will be of great focus. Love and cultural unity of people of Jonglei will forever shine.

The author, Junior William Deng, is a PhD student in Political Science at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He can be reached through his email at dengthiy2004@gmail.com


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