By Olabode Moses
The arena is sand filled, music from traditional drummers, musicians and cheer leaders rent the air. The spectators gaze admiringly at the enthralling spectacle before them, the place is reminiscent of the ancient Roman gladiatorial amphitheatre. Local drinks, snacks and cigarette vendors parade their wares with abandon. Young men in search of exuberant excitement, chatter about little adventures and mini gossip going around town. ’Yankwarako’ , the comedian boxers take to the centre stage to add colour to the occasion as they play parodies of boxing scenarios to the comic relief of the spectators. The real bouts are yet to start. The opening parodies last about an hour until the umpire arrives and moves to the middle of the ‘boxing ring’ blowing his whistle, then the parodies stop. It is now time for business.
The first pair step in, these are no Klitchcovs, Anthony Joshuas, or Floyd Mayweathers.They are rather, more like Mike Tyson with no foot wear and without one boxing glove going for the ‘Kisa’. The footwork here is bare feet groveling in the scorching savanna sand, there are no fancy jabs, or friendly upper cuts , the punches are delivered , full blown, raw, purposeful, brawn, straight on target, when an opponent is truly hit, he falls , it means he has experienced ‘Kisa’ or ‘killed’ literally in Hausa language but more appropriately it means he has been ‘defeated’.
Watching a ‘Dambe’ or Hausa traditional boxing bout can be quite engaging. The contestants enter the arena bare bodied except for a pair of trunks with only one boxing hand wrapped in white linen, thickened into a solid, strong ball of fist. This is further wrapped with sharp twine to keep it in place, each punch is expected to lacerate the body of the opponent, most times it draws blood. The Griots sing praises and appellations of the contestant throughout the match. When a boxer knocks down his opponent, there are shouts of celebrations by the crowd and like a mini industry, betting huge sums of money is also staked by fans and speculators, sometimes you gain, sometimes you lose, that is life. Dambe is just like the game of life, wins some and lose some in the arena called existence. Inspite of all that however, youngsters are taking to this gladiatorial show case which has strong cultural roots.
Dambe or traditional hausa boxing has been a well revered sport in Northern Nigeria from time immemorial. The sport is a form of entertainment usually indulged in by men folk to enable unwind before or after the harvest season. Although essentially a Hausa sport ,these days Dambe tournaments take place across the length and breadth of Nigeria and beyond into neighbouring West African Countries like Niger, Chad, Cameroun, Benin , Mali and other African countries. Indeed some of the contestants are from some of these countries. ‘Dambe’ has been described by some people as an extremely dangerous sport that can lead to deformity or even death.
Garba Bello, an ardent fan and follower of the sport for over 18years confided in me that most Dambe sportsmen hardly live to old age because of the pain and trauma that accompanies the sport. Indeed the preparation by a boxer for contests requires rigorous training as well as some traditional rites to ensure victory. Inspite of all that, Dambe has remained a unique traditional Hausa sport that has warmed its way into many hearts in Hausa land and beyond.
Interestingly however, many people lay credence to the fact that Dambe is more a cultural phenomena than a merely recreational exercise, I dare say it is both because it possesses a dual element of the cultural and the recreational . Dambe is show of bravado that also guarantees large cash, popularity and exposure. Dambe remains one the few relics of true indigenous traditional Hausa sport that has not only survived but also retained it’s unique cultural paraphernalia, music, comedy, camaraderie et al. Can Dambe be elevated to the status of Olympic sports someday? Can it be further harnessed like kick boxing to attract endorsements and global attention that will attract investors on larger scale? Only the future can tell.
By Olabode Moses
Olabode Moses is a Freelance Culture Writer,Producer and Creative Entrepreneur based in Kaduna,Nigeria.