THE REVIVAL OF ABOTRI
TRADITIONAL BEACH WRESTLING IN GA-DANGME
By Dzaga Ameyi
Since the beginning of time, traditional forms of wrestling have been known to many cultures on all continents. These wrestling forms had simple rules and needed no investments in facilities or equipments to practice. In Ghana, the coastal communities from Anlo on the east through Ga-Dangme to Fanti on the west had their own forms of wrestling which they practiced on the beaches. This traditional beach wrestling is known as ABOTRI in the Ga-Dangme areas.
Up until the mid sixties, groups of youth, wrestling to the sound of traditional recreational sing songs (Jama) performed by cheering spectators (young and old) was a common sight on beeches from Ada to Chorkor and beyond. The sport provided an activity that was challenging, competitive and physically demanding. It also served to promote discipline, group solidarity and good communal living, as well as to teach life-long skills and build self esteem and heroism among these communities.
Little wonder, therefore that the nation’s topmost boxers from old have come from this tradition – some as participants, others as observers – and contemporary boxers have also come up as protégés of trainers who benefited from the tradition of ABOTRI. However with rapid modernization, the development and accessibility of the mass media and severe pressure from foreign cultural influences, the social lives of people were drastically transformed. New forms of recreation emerged and the rewarding cultural activity of ABOTRI waned and was quickly forgotten for four decades and the economic and social environment that led to its demise still persist.
It has been my dream for the past ten years to get ABOTRI institutionalized as part of Homowo and other Ga Dangme festivals as a first step towards promoting it as a national, and then as a West African, and even , one day, as an African sport at the Olympic games. With the support of the Cultural Initiatives Support Programme in Ghana, the revival of ABOTRI in Ga- Dangme is underway. Coaches and some elders from Ada, Tema Manhean, Teshie and Chorkor, with only faint memories of the sport, but huge doses of faith, have joined hands with me, raised teams of young men in their communities and nurtured them to contest readiness. Eight wrestlers each from their trainers, some elders and team members and accompanying Jama groups participated in the ABOTRI revival contest at the Golden Beach, Prampram in the Dangme West district.
The contest was keen and the display of skills, physical fitness, and sheer determination of the wrestlers to hold their own against the opponent was amazing to watch. At the end of an exciting two and half hours of wrestling in three weight divisions, light weight, light heavy and heavy weight divisions, Chorkor emerged winners with two Gold, followed by Teshie with one Gold and one silver, Ada with two Silver with Tema taking the fourth position. Wrestlers, their coaches, community elders and spectator were all unanimous that the rebirth of ABOTRI is underway.
Ghana Culture Magazine Issue No. 3/2010