In Senegal, professional wrestling reigns supreme. Seeing as it’s the national sport, those who successfully practice lutte sénégalaise, orlaamb, are considered heroes in their home country, treated like movie stars or royalty. Though unlike the WWE stars in America who transformed wrestling into an entertainment spectacle throughout the ’90s, the burgeoning wrestling champions in Senegal are reaching new heights of popularity while attempting to maintain ties to their traditional folk roots.
Amsterdam-based photographer Ernst Coppejans recently spent several weeks shadowing the men and boys who are working to become the next big laamb champions. His portraits capture the hulking subjects on a beach in the small village of Yene where they train. Contorted and posed, mid-grapple or lounging by the sea, Coppejans’ images demonstrate a different kind of masculinity.
The series, titled “Lutteur,” began while Coppejans was traveling in West Africa, seeking to meet and photograph members of the gay community there. The resulting project, “Dans le Milieu,” explores West Africa’s laws that prohibit same sex relationships. While in Senegal, however, Coppejans became particularly fascinated with the wrestlers he saw on the beaches. After a bit of research, he decided to join the Senegalese hopefuls for a month, attending their tournaments and observing their practices.
“Champions are worshiped,” Coppejans explained to The Huffington Post. “Many Senegalese boys train fanatically to make their dream, becoming a famous lutteur come true.”