Dambe is a native form of boxing associated with the Hausa people of West Africa for generations, known for its vulgar nature. It was also traditionally practiced 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, unlike other combat sports, it doesn’t have formal weight classes, there are no uniforms and there are hardly any rules.
The sport is more popular in the Nothern region of Nigeria, attracting a good number of fighters and spectators in underground circuits curated by Two groups, a league of ten Dambe clubs called Nigeria Traditional Boxing League Association and Dambe Warriors work to preserve the sport with the aim of making it widely accepted.
The league founded six clubs and designed a season of weekend tournaments in which teams pit their best boxers against one another. Along with a regular season, the league drafted a complete set of rules. It consulted with historians, fighters, and fans to codify generations of tradition while introducing new regulations to rein in the sport’s wilder tendencies. To create broad appeal, the league is gradually banning some customs that may prove difficult to export. For example, fighters wear amulets for protection and intimidation. They also rub a herbal mixture into rows of half-inch incisions cut up and down their arms, believing it to strengthen punches. For added safety, the league hired a doctor to monitor fights. Without sponsorships, the league relies on selling tickets — usually less than 500 naira, or about $1.40, each — to fund the clubs. And its board members work day jobs to help finance operations It is reaching out to sportswear manufactures to create a glove that mimics the traditional hand wraps, only without the flesh-tearing cords, NY Times reports.
We are having to battle between keeping that whole traditional essence of the game of Dambe and selling it to a global audience. It’s not like we have easy answers, Chidi Anyina said.
The other group, Dambe Warriors founded by Chidi Anyina and Anthony Okeleke, uses the media to project the boxing for a modern audience. Their Youtube channel’s 21 videos have racked up 13 million views with more than 50,000 subscribers. The duo wants to turn their platform into the U.F.C. of Africa, they’ve hosted two fights in Lagos to help build more popularity outside the northern states.