Dambe: Nigeria’s Traditional Martial Arts Refuses ...

Dambe: Nigeria’s Traditional Martial Arts Refuses To Tap Out

Featured image credit: August Udoh

The Dambe boxing is an ancient tradition in the North popular amongst the butcher caste. While no one knows exactly how the sport reached West Africa, Muslim scholars claim it arrived in Northern Nigeria sometime before Islam reached Nigeria between 10th and 11th century.

A typical Dambe fight lasts three rounds of kicks and jabs, with the bare-bodied boxers at times leaving the dusty circle with with shattered jaws, bleeding eyes, broken teeth and cracked ribs.

The punching hand, frightfully referred to as ‘the spear’ is bound with a rope called ‘Kara’, while the weaker hand is used as a shield. The sole aim of a Dambe fighter is beat his opponent into submission.

But if that sounds brutal, it is nothing compared to how it used to be back in the day when shards of glass were sewn into with the “kara” to guarantee maximum body damage. That practice is however banned but yet fatalities still happen. Boxers sometimes die in the ring.


To prepare for their astounding fight scenes in the box-office hit Black Panther based on the Marvel comic title, its cast had trained in several martial arts.

One of them was the Nigerian art of Dembe boxing, according to lead actor Chadwick Boseman, who plays T’Challa the titular hero.

In a report, Boseman said the lethal discipline, came about as a result of research for fight scenes, which drew on martial art styles from different continents.

“A lot of thought went into the choreography, which incorporates capoeira (Brazil), Dambe boxing (West Africa), Senegalese wrestling, Zulu stick-fighting and mixtures of Asian styles like muay thai and harimau silat [sic], to create the fictional heritage of Wakanda,” he reportedly said

There are arrangements to make Dambe boxing an official National sport, maybe even an Olympic sport.

The President of Nigeria Traditional Boxing Premier League (NITRABOL), Faruk Bello, assured newsmen that the league body would raise traditional boxing’s level to Olympic Games standard. Bello cited the example of karate, taekwondo and judo  which he said were merely Asian traditional sports which later  became international sports at the Olympics level.

“Nigeria’ traditional boxing, which is also known as dambe, will also be at this level if we apply the right approach to the game, with hard work and determination. This is the second season of the league with 10 clubs participating. We conducted the first season  last year with eight clubs. We started the first phase of the league last month in Katsina, and we are working hard to modernise the game  like  modern boxing,” he said.

Whatever the future of the sport, it’s pretty obvious the art form isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.


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