Dambe: the Nigeria traditional boxing where hands are used as spears and shields

Stephen Nartey September 08, 2022
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Jeremy Weate

Dambe, the brutal style of traditional boxing originating from parts of Nigeria, Niger and Chad, is one of the sports that has survived colonialism and continues to be a game of interest to local communities.

It’s a style of boxing linked with the Hausa people in Africa. It started initially as wrestling, where one’s fist is used as a spear to hit an opponent and the other as a shield to parry punches. 

Known as ‘kokowa’ in the Hausa language, Dambe starts with the fighters binding their fist with bandages and ropes making it strong as a stone, while the weaker hand is prepared for protection and positioned with the palm facing the opponent. 

Unlike professional boxing on the world stage, Dambe is fought in three rounds or is called to a halt by the officiating referee after a knockout, according to notes from Culture Trip. Aside from a knockout, the traditional boxing can be stopped when a participant calls for it. 

Dambe is basically an art of punching and kicking, in some instances, it’s fierce and brutal and leaves boxers with broken rips, dislocated jaws and bloodied faces. In some communities, traditional boxing has been banned because it often results in the death of opponents. 

The prize after the end of the game often comes in the form of cattle, money, motorcycles and cars. In rare instances, fighters have been rewarded with women to marry after sterling performances. The sports fighters are mainly butchers who learned the art of kicking and punching from an early age. 

There is no certainty on the origins of Dambe, but researcher of Nigerian martial arts culture Edward Powe said Dambe may have originated from Egypt because of its similarities with Egyptian boxing during the 12th and 13th dynasties. Muslim scholars also suggest Dambe must have arrived in Nigeria around the 10th and 11th centuries. 

Though the traditional boxing has gained international recognition, it started among the low-income earners of the Hausa mainly the butchers. The butchers traveled to different villages at harvest, organizing fighting challenges with other butcher guilds from the area as part of the festive entertainment. 

It later stretched to a sport involving clans of butchers traveling from Hausa region and engaging in fighting tournaments with local communities. It further assumed competitive sports where fighters fought for the fame and glory it brings. It is breaking the internet as it has garnered more following on YouTube and video-sharing pages.

In the past, Dambe was used as a preparatory platform when recruiting men for war and fighters got the opportunity to marry as the price for emerging victorious.

In modern times, the traditional boxing offers young men the arena to prove their masculinity and acquire personal prestige. It may not be fetching the monies participants expect but it gives fighters of Hausa origin some pride and self-esteem to be part of the Dambe history.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: September 8, 2022


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