A military sucker punch, like that of the old days of Dambe Boxing


Random Saturday evening,
Typical gridlock,
Undetermined hour,

Much is made about thanking the Creator (if you aren’t agnostic/atheist) for Fridays, but I like to think that the essence of such gratitude is defeated if you are reporting to work the following day. And no, wearing jeans to the office does nothing to change the fact that you have been robbed of yet another weekend. Many employers in these parts have a lot to learn about employee motivation and worn out body systems, but we haven’t reached the point of being paid on per-hour basis, and those bills will never stop coming for as long as your adult life lasts, so, work you must. (I would spare a thought for corporate slavery on this space, but I am on a different mission today).

So I am returning from what would count as a full Saturday at the office, attending to stuff that could have easily waited until Monday. And since I am still waiting like Adekunle Gold for God to “pick up my call”, it’s still smoky buses rather than the driver’s seat of a sleek SUV. I’m seated in one of these lovely metal things whose rickety state are more original to the city of Lagos than the faux gloss we endured in that Captain America movie, and as we try to negotiate through Lekki toll gate, we spot a bit of drama up front. It’s the classic “you tried to overtake” and “you scratched my car” argument between car owner and bus driver.

We’ve seen this before: accusation, counter accusation, flavoured with curse words, keeping in mind the Golden Rule of collisions which is to never concede…but the car owner takes this one step further! He walks to the driver’s seat of the bus and lunges with clenched fists! The punches are quick and accurate, and a close look at the assailant’s car is enough to deduce that he is affiliated with the army. There will be other days to dwell on individual temper vis-a-vis gross impunity of armed forces personnel, but the swinging of fists brings to mind an old traditional sport called Dambe.


The ancient sport called Dambe

Dambe , also known as Kokawa is a form of boxing associated with the Hausa people. The tradition is dominated by Hausa butcher caste groups, and over the last century evolved from clans of butchers travelling 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 “box”, and though there are no formal weight classes, usually competitors in Dambe matches are fairly matched in size.

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. Some boxers dip their spear in sticky resin mixed with bits of broken glass. This, however, became an illegal practice. 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.

Autan Sikido, 27, originally from Kaduna State, prepares to strike during a match.

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. 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.

In traditional bouts, amulets are often used as forms of supernatural protection. Amulets are seen in modern urban bouts, too, but officials generally discourage the use of magical protection on the grounds of fairness. It is still common that amulets are placed in the feather filled pillows which fighters place in their wrapped fists, and fighters often scar their striking arm, rubbing salves and resins into the healing wounds which are meant to provide strength or defence.


The soldier’s jabs remind me of the “spear”, only this time it appears that the bus driver knows absolutely nothing about the shield, or even about the sport. In any case, this is by no means a sporting atmosphere, the only thing at stake is right of way (plus a few ego points), and for the individual at the wrong end, the price is a bloodied nose, with a cut just above the left eye. I know, I should have taken a few shots of the incident, and probably tweeted about it, yea, all that viral stuff, but on that day, I was all about the punches and steering well clear of them.

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