Dambe is a form of boxing associated with the Hausa people of the Saharan regions of West Africa. Originally, dambe included a wrestling component, known as kokawa, but today it is essentially a striking art.

Techniques: Although there are no formal weight classes, usually competitors in dambe matches are 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.

Dambe Boxing Match in Nigeria

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.

However, because wrestling used to be allowed, and the goal of the game is to cause the opponent to fall down, kicks used to be more uncommon than they are today.

Tournaments: Traditionally, contests took place between men of butchers’ guilds and men of farm villages. The teams of butchers and villagers were called armies, and their bouts took place at the end of the harvest season. Today, participants are more often urban youths who train in gyms or backyards, and these youths compete year-round.

During village bouts, contests take place in a cleared area called the battlefield, with spectators forming the boundaries of the ring. In modern urban bouts, national competitions take place in stadiums while local competitions take place in temporary rings set up outside factories. In these urban matches, participants wear shorts rather than loincloths.

Whether traditional or modern, percussive music and chants precede the bouts. The music and chants are associated with both groups and individuals, and serve to call boxers to the ring, taunt opponents, and encourage audience participation.

In traditional bouts, amulets are often used as forms of supernatural protection. Amulets are seen in modern urban bouts, too, but officials generally discourage the use of magical protection on the grounds of fairness

Controversial areas: The stances and single wrapped fist of Hausa boxers bear visual resemblance to illustrations of Ancient Egyptian and Hellenistic boxers. This has caused speculation that Hausa boxing is directly related to Ancient Egyptian boxing (Powe, 1994). Precedence and who influenced whom is always a contentious topic, but the argument is supported by theories that the Hausa people used to live farther east, toward Sudan, than they do today.