Nigeria’s Brutal Boxing Art of Dambe; All You Need To About The Game

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Origin

Dambe is a martial art of the Hausa people from West Africa. Competitors in a typical match aim to subdue each other into total submission mostly within three rounds. It often results in serious bodily injuries for the challengers such as broken jaws and ribs. The tradition is dominated by Hausa butcher caste groups, and over the last century evolved from clans of butchers traveling to farm villages at harvest time, integrating a fighting challenge by the outsiders into local harvest period entertainment. It was also traditionally practiced as a way for men to get ready for war, and many of the techniques and terminology allude to warfare. Today, companies of boxers’ travel performing outdoor matches accompanied by ceremony and drumming, throughout the traditional Hausa homelands of northern Nigeria, southern Niger and southwestern Chad.

Shagon Bahgo during a Fight in Katsina

Technique/Rules of the Game

Matches last three rounds. There is no time limit to these rounds. Instead they end when: 1) there is no activity, 2) one of the participants or an official call a halt, or 3) a participant’s hand, knee, or body touches the ground. Knocking the opponent down is called killing the opponent.

The primary weapon is the strong-side fist. The strong-side fist, known as the spear, is wrapped in a piece of cloth covered by tightly knotted cord. Some boxers would dip their spear in sticky resin mixed with bits of broken glass. This, however, became an illegal practice. The lead hand, called the shield, is held with the open palm facing toward the opponent. The lead hand can be used to grab or hold as required.

Fighter getting ready
Fighter getting ready
Fighter getting ready
Fighter getting ready
Fighter getting ready

The lead leg is often wrapped in a chain, and the chain-wrapped leg is then used for both offense and defense. The unwrapped back leg can also be used to kick. Because wrestling used to be allowed, and the goal of the game is to cause the opponent to fall down which is referred to as killed and the winner is the person that knocks down the opponent, kicks are more common than they used to be.

Fighters had shards of glass sewn with the kara to inflict maximum body damage on their opponents, which sometimes resulted in death. Another typical normality with the Damba warriors is that their right forearm is usually completely covered in about one-centimeter of scars made from razor cuts laced with traditional herbs to give them strength and help them win—it is also not uncommon for fighters to wear charms on their bodies and smoke Marijuana before the fight.

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