Democratic Republic of Congo / Travel Culture

Catch Fétiche: The Strange Link Between Voodoo & Wrestling

Patricia Sá

Published on
Catch Fétiche: The Strange Link Between Voodoo & Wrestling

For those out there that watched WWE as much as I did in my naive teenage years, did it ever cross your mind that there might be more to that fighting style? Something with a bit more… magic? Well, if you ever thought that voodoo and ancient magical elements could never coexist with a traditional fighting style, I’m here to break it to you. It can, and its name is no other than Catch Fétiche.

This unique style of fighting was born in the Republic of Congo and is as popular as wrestling is in the U.S. It encompasses a traditional combo of African wrestling with a touch of ancient religious practices—or, in this case, voodoo. But what does this entail exactly? From mysterious spells, magical powders, use of live animals and even some undead qualities from the players (like stopping their heartbeat for a few seconds). Starting to sound pretty much like a horror movie, right?

Nowadays, Catch Fétiche is the second most popular sport in the Congo right after soccer, and every neighborhood has its own star player. The most famous wrestlers are known in every corner of the country, and every fan knows right where they live.

The matches can usually take from five to ten days, and each competitor chooses their own preferred fighting style. There’s a world of possibilities on what to use in these matches—witchcraft, fire, hammers, razors, and even animals. Some turn to voodoo-based fighting, using black magic and live animals as ritual tools or weapons, while others prefer a more physical combat style. In the latter method, most competitors are proficient in a diverse number of combat arts, from traditional African wrestling, kung fu, and even Greco-Roman wrestling. Those that don’t bring voodoo into the fighting ring usually use it in preparation for the fight. Power and strength enhancing “potions” with mysterious ingredients are often given to players by witch doctors right before they step into the fight.

Catch Fetiche match in Congo - African fighting and voodoo

A glimpse of a Catch Fétiche match by Jakson Fager via @gf.castellanos  

Catch Fétiche mesmerizes each and everyone that sees it. It’s a sport that taunts the fine line between what’s real or unreal in the arena. The competition might be both overwhelming and confusing to an outsider, for it’s something never before seen anywhere except the Congo. The ancient practices of magic once used in animist rituals leave little to no space between what’s considered sacred or profane. The game allows you to think deeply about the meaning of life and death as soon as a player hits the ground, drenched in blood. At first, the immediate thought you might have is that none of it can be real and it’s all just theatrics at play. You know, just like WWE. Do try to leave skepticism at the door, because these wrestlers are very serious.

Now that I’ve shown you the diversity of fighting styles, what about the men and women that are part of it? Most of the combatants in Catch Fétiche are either retired soldiers or youngsters living on the streets. They turn to wrestling as a way to escape poverty and make a better life for themselves. Edingwe Moto is by far the most recognized name in the history of Catch Fétiche, and it all started in the 80’s when he saw Hulk Hogan on the television. He’s the man responsible for including voodoo—or fétiche—in this sport. Inspired by the former President Mobutu Sese Seko’s governmental policy of empowering the Congo’s authentic culture over the impending colonial influence, voodoo was here to stay.

“But you mentioned women as well,” you might be thinking by now. With a well known background of terrifying stories of violence and rape, many young Congolese women have turned to Catch Fétiche as a road to empowerment. A way to feel safer and gain respect from their peers, while earning some financial support with each won fight. Miss Martha, a multiple champion, is one of the first women to ever wrestle in this sport as well as practice voodoo in her fights. She’s also known for her preference of fighting men in the ring, and has been a role model to young women throughout the years, giving them hope and confidence that this is not an exclusive men’s game and that women are just as capable of kicking butt.

Patricia Sá
Lisbon, Portugal
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