September 18, 2020

Dambe – The Popular Boxing Sport in Nigeria

A popular sporting tradition among the Hausa in northern Nigeria is the former Dambe Boxe. This brutal sport lasts for three rounds, and its sole purpose is to lead the opponent to complete submission. Fighters sometimes come out of fights with broken jaws, bleeding noses and broken bones. Sport has recently gained a lot of attention and global recognition.

We do not know for sure the details surrounding the origin of this sport in West Africa. However, Nigerian martial culture researcher Edward Power recognizes many similarities with images of 12th and 13th dynasty Egyptian boxers. Some scholars believe the practice arrived in northern Nigeria between the 10th and 11th centuries.

Nigerian Boxing

Also known as Kokawa, boxing dambe began between groups of ‘butchers’ who visit villages to sacrifice animals for harvest festivals. They also set up dambe fights to impress potential brides. The practice subsequently became a kind of preparatory for men for war. Often, when someone was defeated, it was common for combatants to marry their wives.

Nowadays, fights are used as a way to demonstrate masculinity. As well as a way to earn a living and have social prestige, leading to the honor of their families to the arenas. A dambe athlete can earn about $ 550 in a fight.

Several people, including men, women and children, gather in the arenas to watch the fights. Wooden benches are placed on raised platforms, to create a whole ambience and provide good viewers view . It is very common for fights to be accompanied by local musicians singing and playing war songs.

In one hand, the fighters tie a rope called ‘kara’, which makes their fist as strong as a stone.

The other hand is used as a shield to protect itself and should be placed with the palm open facing the opponent. The fights are divided into three untimed rounds .

The end of the fight is marked when an opponent, or the ‘judge’, calls for a break or someone is knocked to the ground.


Fights basically consist of punches and kicks. At the beginning of the dambe, the wrestlers dipped the rope, tied in his hand, in resin and broken glass. This was done to cause as much bodily harm as possible on opponents. This often resulted in deaths in the arenas. However, such a practice has been abolished.

It is very common to see scars on the right forearm of dambe fighters. These scars are made by razor cuts that are supposed to serve as strength and help a fighter to win. It is not uncommon for fighters to use charms on their bodies and smoke pot before fights.

As with other athletes, dambe boxers undergo an intense training regimen. These trainings are held in the morning and evening, five times a week. Several exercises are aimed at strengthening the hands and arm used to throw punches.

Many dambe fighters start their careers very early, around 10 years old. On the other hand, the career of these fighters is very short. Boxers often retire at age 20, often becoming coaches or looking for other sources of income.

Because it is a contact sport in the long run, the practice can lead to brain damage. Shagun Dan Tagayi, one of Nigeria’s most famous fighters, had his career interrupted due to brain damage caused by the sport.

The president of the Traditional Boxing League of Nigeria hopes that one day this sport can be recognized enough to be able to participate in events such as the Olympics.

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