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Dambe-The Traditional Nigerian Boxing

Updated on March 10, 2015

Dambe boxing

The tough sport of Dambe boxing
The tough sport of Dambe boxing | Source

The gathering storm

Slowly a crowd gathered forming a circular ring as the pulsating drumbeats of the Galangu drums ushered the gladiators to the arena. A mix-match of stature huge muscled men and gangly youths filed out in single procession.

Soon the spectators become a mammoth crowd and praise singers elegizing the exploits of champions past and present with long shrill cries and verbal chants. The combatants dance into the center circle two to his kind equally paired according to age group and physic.

A momentary silence falls on the scene as two boxers face each other to do battle in the grueling spectacle called Dambe.

Traditional Boxing

Dambe boxing also known by the name Musangwe has its origin in West Africa among the Hausa speaking people of Nigeria. The Predominantly Northern sport is a traditional form of boxing that has elements of martial art like kick boxing, wrestling and western boxing.

The element of the sport depends on the ethnic group, state of origin, and traditions of the people. Dambe could be traced back to leisure activity between clans, readiness for war and entertainment.

Young men of Hausa extract in the past practiced Dambe to horn their combat skills and other acts of dexterity and courage. Dambe is performed during festivals and ceremonies like the Argungu fishing festival and coronation ceremonies.

Dambe is an amazing spectacle to watch because the boxers fight to frenzied drumming during combat. The traditional Hausa boxing is common to most Northern states of Nigeria like Kano, Sokoto, Maiduguri, and other countries such as Niger and Chad.

Local martial arts

Local martial arts
Local martial arts | Source

A national sports

Dambe is a National sports in Nigeria
Dambe is a National sports in Nigeria | Source

The Boxers Outfit

The Dambe boxers form a fist, which is then wrapped in cotton, cloth, and rope. The lead hand IS used to grab, hold, or unsettle their opponent. Dambe fighters also believe in charms, and amulets to fortify themselves and make them impervious to pain.

The lead leg might be chained to each other by a rope or cord depending on the rules of engagement. Modern gladiators might use wrestling moves and kick boxing including vicious punches to unsettle their opponent.

Much like western boxing Dambe is a dangerous sport and the fighters are prone to serious injuries like broken bone, broken jaw and head wounds.

Basic items used by Dambe boxers

1 Fist wrapped in cloth

2 Boxing shorts, boxers are usually shirtless.

3 Charms and amulets

4 Concoctions and chants

5 A leg wrapped and bound to their opponent with a rope.

The boxing arm

Boxers fist wrapped in cloth. regular boxing gloves are also used in modern Dambe boxing
Boxers fist wrapped in cloth. regular boxing gloves are also used in modern Dambe boxing | Source

Hausa boxing

Which sports is Hausa boxing

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The traditional boxing rules

The rules are simple the bouts last only three rounds and might end either in a knock down, a fall, inactivity, and an official ruling. The fighter start as early as eight years old so the rule allow combatants of same weight strength and stature to engage in fisticuffs.

The fighters use their fists to strike the opponent, feet to kick like in kickboxing, head, and lead hand to wrestle them to the ground. Modern Dambe utilizes only strikes and kicks letting go of the wresting element.

In medieval times, Dambe had a more dangerous twit such as Deeping wrapped fists into a sticky substance then finely ground glass. The boxer unlike western boxing is only allowed to use the dominant hand to strike his opponent while the other words off blows.

The matches are organized in open fields, the village square, or a dedicated boxing ring with the spectators forming a circle. The boxers can only strike the head and kick the feet of their opponent so they fall or touch the ground.

Hausa drummers

Hausa drummers
Hausa drummers | Source

Traditional wrestling

Dambe boxing has its origin from traditional wrstling
Dambe boxing has its origin from traditional wrstling | Source

Dambe boxing

The exact origin of traditional Hausa boxing historically was a way Hausa speaking warrior practiced for war. The physical challenge, strength, and endurance including courage were a perfect vehicle for young warriors.

Interestingly the traditional boxing is predominantly found only in West Africa with similarities with ancient Egyptian wrestling. The Hausa martial arts refined the boxer’s military skill while developing endurance and physical strength.

Special African drums like thekalangu talking drum accompany the fights and add excitement to the bouts. Praise singing is common elegizing the boxer exploits and praising his victories.

The use of native charms and amulets is commonplace to gain advantage over their opponents. Native healers are also employed to treat wounded or damaged boxers.

Gear, fighting styles and location

fighting styles
circle ring
wrapped boxing arm
boxing ring
tapped leg
open field

Why traditional box still exists

The modern Dambe boxers are lured into boxing by dreams of riches and honor. Young fighters come from poor homes and see the sport as a road map to wealth.

This unfortunately is not the case, only a small minority ever succeeds professionally in the sport to earn decent wages. Without westernized medicine and treatment Dambe, boxers suffer poorly treated wounds, which lead to early retirement or death.

Traditional Nigerian Dambe Boxing


The Dambe traditional Hausa boxing like western boxing comes with lots of trills, dangers, and culture. A referee properly moderates fights and the rules are strictly followed.

The edgy matches last only three short rounds and are fast paced, and brutal. The traditional boxing is steeped in culture is ethnic based, and an act of bravery by young warriors.

Are you coming to West Africa soon you might just stumble on Dambe boxers fighting for honor and wealth?


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    • profile image

      chris91844 22 months ago

      did u mean left hand instead of lead

    • profile image

      Lati 2 years ago

      I was a fan of dambe while living in Zamfara.

    • tony55 profile image

      femi 2 years ago from Nigeria

      Thanks georgescifo for the comment. My writing has improved a lot thanks to hubpages.

    • georgescifo profile image

      georgescifo 2 years ago from India

      Hi Femi, the traditional Nigerian boxing is something that I have not heard or seen so far and you have very well projected about the same through this hub. Thanks for sharing and keep up your good work.