I stumbled across it by accident during a recent trip to Lagos. Having previously witnessed sportsman-like bare knuckle-boxing taking place on the street, I wanted to explore this show of masculinity further. It turned out our producer there had something even more culturally rich to expose us to.
Dambe is a form of boxing associated with the Hausa people of West Africa. 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 festival 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.
Although there are no formal weight classes, competitors in Dambe matches are usually fairly matched in size. 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 calls 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. 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.
We were lucky enough to witness Ondo Zaki challenge the defending beast of a champion, Duna Sase (The Nigerian Hulk in Red Shorts). Ondo was boxing way above his weight which would earn him extra money for every punch he landed, but in the end Duna left with his title intact.