Two “Congolese” sports on show for the Brazzaville All-Africa Games

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Continental Games always seek to showcase local sports particular to the identity of the continent and host country.

Whether Sambo (the Russian pioneered martial art) at the European Games in Baku or Va’a (a Polynesian canoe challenge) at the Port-Moresby Pacific Games, each continental competition is an opportunity to present so-called “demonstration” sports. And the All-Africa Games are no exception, with Brazzaville 2015 showcasing two disciplines that are great favourites for Congolese men and women: Nzango for the women and Sawara (or “Pharaohs’ boxing”) for the men. Nzango mixes dance, jumps, choreography and singing, is now an official sport in the two Congos, and is extremely popular and growing quickly in the region.

Two teams of eleven women face off and take turns jumping, crossing and re-crossing their legs over a period of 50 minutes, all within a relatively small performance area and under the supervision of two referees; the teams score points on the basis of their opponents’ errors with rhythm, as well as interplay with their own team-mates and synchronisation with the music.

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As a sport it is trans-generational, a vector for social mobility and a route into athletic activity and fitness; it has become a symbol of emancipation for Congolese women and will be given pride of place over the fortnight of these All-Africa Games. Sawara boxing does not actually originate in the Congo, but rather in the ancient Egypt of the Pharaohs.

Forgotten over the course of the centuries, it has been totally brought up to date and re-popularised by Jean Samba, who has dedicated his life to the rediscovery of this lost sport. After years of research, this previously abandoned discipline was officially recognised by the Congolese authorities in 1988 and is now a competitive sport in the country.

Increasingly part of the Congolese heritage, the discipline established its own Federation on 24 March 2013, with Mr Samba as president. Now fully adopted by the Congo, this combat of the Pharaohs is a source of national pride and will be a demonstration sport in September in Brazzaville.

Two sports symbolising Congolese sports culture that will without a doubt be a highlight of these 2015 All-Africa Games.

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