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 practised as a way for men
to get ready for war, and many of the techniques and terminology allude to
warfare. Today, companies of boxers travel, performing outdoor matches
accompanied by ceremony and drumming, throughout the traditional Hausa
homelands of northern Nigeria, southern Niger and southwestern Chad.The
name "Dambe" derives from the Hausa word for "boxing", and appears in
languages like Bole as Dembe.
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.
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 are more common than they used to be.
Traditionally contests took place at the end of the harvest season, between
members of the butchers’ guild and members of farm communities. Both teams
were called armies, with the matches taking place in a cleared area referred
to as the ‘battlefield’, with spectators forming the boundary of the ring.
In these traditional bouts amulets were often used, but in modern times
officials generally discourage the use of such magical amulets, based on
These days, fights are no longer held in a cleared area, but in rings in
stadiums or temporary rings outside factories. Nor are the fighters members
of a guild or certain community, they are more often youngsters who train at
gyms and compete year-round.
But, no matter whether modern or traditional, all bouts are still preceded
by percussive music and chants. Both music and chants are associated with a
certain group or individual and serves to call the boxers to the ring, taunt
opponents and encourage audience participation.
The stances and single wrapped fist of dambe-fighters bear resemblance to
pictures of ancient Egyptian and Hellenistic boxers. Therefore it is assumed
that the style is related to ancient Egyptian boxing, this is supported by
the assumption that the Hausa people lived further toward Sudan than they do