Dambe a traditional one-hand boxing sport is said to have originated from the northern part of Nigeria many years ago. The original spot/place of the invention has gone into oblivion. However, it was said to have started by butchers. The butchers started it by wrapping one hand as a fist and used the second hand to defend like a shield.
Dambe came into national limelight in Nigeria in 1994 when it was part of the first National Traditional Sports Festival at the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos Nigeria under the then Chairman of Nigerian Association of Traditional Sports (NATS) Alhaji Dr. G.N. Hamza. The festival was the first official outing of NATS. It was inside the sports Hall of the National Stadium in Surulere Lagos, in December 1994. We should remember that NATS itself was inaugurated in August 1993 by Chief Alex Akinyele, the then Executive Chairman of National Sports Commission in Nigeria.
I can recall vividly that in one of the bouts of Dambe at that festival, one of the two fighters used the foot to slap the face of the opponent. This was done because the fighter was already used to that slapping of opponent’s face with foot and it was an authentic skill of Dambe before the inauguration of Nigerian Association of Traditional Sports (NATS). This kicking of opponent in Dambe was regarded as too fierce and removed from the start. That was the beginning of democratization/modernization of Dambe, so to say.
Dambe moved further to get to be included in the National Sports Festival by becoming a DEMONSTRATION EVENT AT BENUE 96 and eventually a scoring event at IMO’98
At IMO’98, Dambe was to produce 3 gold medals, but it could only produce two because there were only two states that presented athletes that met the weight category for the heavy weight class. This was against the rule of the festival which stipulated that at least 3 states must participate in an event before the competition in that event is declared valid. There was a big drama about this when some individuals from the states wanted competition to hold at all cost in that category. One of the officials from a state boasted that he was ready to register a small boy that will defeat all these big for nothing heavy weights. But we insisted that the relevant rules must be obeyed. And they were obeyed.
There was another big drama in Dambe at IMO’98, a particular Dambe Player, representing X State refused to fight another player from Y State. The player from X State insisted that the opponent from Y State was his blood brother and he had prepared himself with spiritual powers that would make him inflict a devastating blow on his blood brother who happened to be his opponent in this particular case.
Some people believed him, some did not. Those who disbelieved speculated that he had sold out for money. Whatever that was the real reason, why the player refused to play, you may not rule out a saga in the outcome of the fight if it had taken place since spiritual powers or monetary influence could spell a doom.
In another encounter at Bauchi 2000, a Dambe player from State XY who was said to be an orthodox boxer ventured into Dambe fighting. He was knocked out and he later got into serious health trouble until certain spiritual treatment was sought when Orthodox health practitioners could not help the matter. Maybe it was just psychological or pretence to safe face after disgraceful defeat.
There was a case at Edo 2002, when a Dambe fighter reported his opponent as having an incision during a short break between the first bout and the second bout. And during the second bout, the person who complained was knocked out. He complained that it was the incision that gave the opponent the power to knock him out. Unfortunately he did not make the report when it was fresh and on the spot. So it was very difficult to ascertain whether the incision was really done when it was purported to have been done. A lot of times, these are psychological war fares than the real potency a purported spiritual power was meant to be possessing. We practitioners in traditional sports believe in the skills, strategies, stamina and judicious use of these to win a bout, rather than the speculated spiritual powers that we cannot measure empirically. However, we discourage vehemently the use of spiritual means especially rings, charms and any other means that we can see. All the aforementioned could be likened to some sagas in Dambe. There are those of us who are students of history and who have read about GLADIATORIAL SHOW in ancient history of the Romans. Is any of the descriptions I had narrated above anything close to gladiatorial show? Not at all. They are very far from gladiatorial shows. Yes they are very far. Still some spectators cannot stay to watch Dambe ‘live’. However, very many enjoy watching Dambe ‘live’.
Also we observed that loosers that had bragged very much before the fight, when disgraced or easily defeated, they concoct “magical excuses as the source of their defeats”. A player that had been receiving salary for a year or two from a sponsoring state, when he disappoints by being defeated scandalously must device method that cannot be empirically viewed to defend his disappointing performance to the state that sponsored him .
Now let us look at beauties of Dambe. Dambe is not a horror sport. Infact I have watched Dambe closely for over twenty years. Dambe is not a saga sport. It is rather a fascinating sport, it is for those who are really brave and sturdy. It is a sport full of sagacity. In my own optical and non-emperical rating. Dambe is the largest crowd pulling indigeneous sport from Africa. It has a slight edge over Kokawa (Traditional Wrestling) when you are talking about crowd pulling.
Infact, I so much believe in the crowd pulling ability of Dambe that I am saying, let us divide a football field into two, let some ordinary footballing go on and let some ordinary Dambe fighting go on at the same time, Dambe’s crowd will compare favorably with the football crowd on the field. Maybe some researchers can just test this hypothesis.
Yes if there is any sport that is a crowd puller, it is Dambe. I have watched Dambe at the National Sports festivals since it was a demonstration event at BENUE’96 and when it became medal scoring event at IMO’98, BAUCHI 2000, EDO 2002, ABUJA 2003 (The 8th All Africa Games) as demonstration event and at ABUJA 2004 when NTA captured it in action and described traditional sports as best crowd puller at Abuja’2004. It is a sport of real physical fitnesss, sturdy body, agile limbs dynamic movements and strategic tactics.
There is Dambe music as Dambe players move around the country, so there are musicians following them. It is just like you will say that Dambe is not complete without Dambe music or Dambe musicians.
Dambe as a form of boxing, has its won peculiar system. It has peculiar foot walk, peculiar movement of the body and body parts. There are also peculiar jubilations from Dambe spectators. In fact I saw a very unusual and uncommon reaction to success in Dambe fighting at ABUJA 2004 – when after a victory in Dambe, a spectator dived and flung himself on the ground and rolled over a heap of sand that was packed there as remainder sand that was used to build the Dambe fighting circle. That is the level of excitement that Dambe gives to audience. Spectators spray money on Dambe fighters.
My several visits to the then privately owned Dambe stadium at Badia, Ijora, Lagos, Nigeria have dispelled the notion that ladies are afraid to watch Dambe because of its fierceness. Ladies paid money, gate fee to watch Dambe at Dambe stadium themselves, not that men sponsored them there.
Really those of us who had being involved in administering Dambe as a sport have been confronted by people asking, “why do we allow such a fierce sport to operate?”. Whenever I face such people I usually tell them that they should congratulate Traditional Sports Federatioon of Nigeria to have softened the fierceness in Dambe in several ways with written rules and regulations. There was a time that Dambe had no written rules and regulations. Infact the first published rules and regulation by NATS was in 1998 under Dr. Haske Dantani as Chairman of NATS and your Afrotradosports man as the chairman of Technical Committee of (NATS). With written rules and regulation, administering, referring and officiating Dambe has moved from the rules of the thumb to a more empirical method and system in all its ramifications.
As you are looking forward to the part two of this article, I wish to draw your attention to the arrow head points that this column is trying to pursue in conjunction with www.afrotradosports.com to move our Traditional Sports forward.
- To educate on Afrotradosports
- To document our Afrotradosports
- To propagate Afrotradosports
- To entertain with our Afrotradosports
- To mentor and motivate with our Afrotrodosports
- To disseminate information on Afrotradosports
Mallam Elias Yusuf