Dambe boxing originated in Hausaland as a form of preparation for hunters before they went out. It has now turned into a national sport, with fighters coming from all over the country in tournaments staged across the land. Dambe is most popular in the large towns and cities of the North. The nearest Dambe scene to Abuja is at Deidei, just beyond Kubwa in the FCT. There are fights every night in an arena just a few hundred metres from Deidei junction. The prize fighters meet on Sunday mornings.
Friday, February 12, 2010
We trekked out to see a few bouts last night. The evening was highly atmospheric, with drummers and singers and an intense smell of weed lingering in the air as night fell. There is an entire Dambe subculture of fighters, followers (including 'independent women') worthy of a documentary. Men work the crowd selling moonshine, soft drinks, suya and 'man medicine.'
The fighting bouts themselves remind me of capoeira - a mixture of dance and fight, with the fighters spending long moments posed like scorpions about to strike, legs quivering with adrenalin. The venom of the rolling overhead punch (which seems to be the only legitimate form of attack) contrasts well with the delicate hand touching of the two non-gloved hands, as the men (or boys) circle around each other. The glove itself seems designed to impact maximum damage - in contrast to boxing gloves in the West which cushion the blow. The 'glove' consists of a woollen mitt bound with rope. If contact is established, the damage would be considerable. One of the fighters appeared to have his face flattened in from previous experience. Some Dambe fighters have killed their opponents during a bout (although this is very rare). Each fighter has a 'coach' who sprays pure water in their face between 'rounds'. There is no bell, no ring (just the open space in front of the crowd) and no referee. Other fighters intervene when a glove becomes unwound or the fighters end up in a body lock. The bout is over if one of the boxers knocks the other to the ground. The winning fighter then works the crowd for tips.
The photos below capture some of the key moments of the evening.