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Smaller peoples and their traditional and ritual combat sports

Yakö People: Kepu wrestling

Yakurr wrestling
Photo by Bruce Whitehouee, PhD

Русская версия

Yakö also spelled Yakö or Yakurr, people of the Cross River region of eastern Nigeria; they speak Loko, a language of the Benue-Congo branch of the Niger-Congo family. The territory of the Yakö, just over 150 square kilometers in area in the dense tropical forest, at the left bank of the middle Cross River, close to the border with Cameroon. The Yakö are mainly yam farmers; subsidiary crops include cocoyams (taro), corn (maize), okra, and pumpkin. The main cash crop is palm oil. The Yakö occupy compact villages divided into wards, each containing several patrilineal clans. The Yakö villages are separated from each other by distances of from five to eight miles. The Yakö numbered 38,204 people at the last published census (1953).

Wrestling competitions play an important role in Yakö life and culture. Every Yakö settlement (village) has its own peculiar wrestling traditions in the network of the common tradition of Kepu (wrestling). In fact, it is a free style without preliminary hold prevails. A contest is held standing without continuation wrestling on the ground. In order to win a bout, the contestant must throw the opponent down into the ground regardless off on his/her back or on any other body part. Tripping and other leg-to-leg techniques are allowed.

Being an integral part of Yakö culture, wrestling is an element of children education and the initiation rituals as well as the main event in calendar celebrations and holidays where villagers compete in strength and stamina. The most known festival celebration “Leboku” dedicated to yam harvest is held in the town of Ugep. Wrestling events take place on the second day of the festival, which is called “female day” (“Janeboku”). On that day, men and women compete in wrestling competitions. Results of these competitions are important for both sexes. For a girl, it is especially honorable because a day after, at the parade and at the dance program, girls will appear according to their “rank” determined a day before in the wrestling tournament. The wrestling rules are practically the same for men and women. According to witnesses watched contests in Ugep, women demonstrate more passion and heat than men. Just one particular feature: female matches take place on a mat and in a ring modeled after American-style WWE wrestling, which is popular among Nigerian television viewers, especially children. Unlike WWE though, Yakö wrestling is a real contest rather than a circus show!

August 2010

Maidens at the Leboku parade and at the dance program appear according to their “rank” determined a day before in the wrestling tournament
Photos from the sites Kansas University and Nigeria Films



Nigerian Culture. Wiki

Yakurr. Wiki.

Leboku. Wiki.

Nigeria by Bruce Whitehouse, PhD

Umor Revisited: a Diachronic Study of Sacrosanct Principles Embedded in the Yakurr Leboku Festival

Ugep. Most Colorful Festival in West Africa! by Bobtee

Joshua Project

The Mbembe and the Yakö

Yakö - Orientation

Yakurr On-line

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