past work: nigeria: dambe boxing
In a small make shift arena in Lagos, Nigeria, drumming fills the air as musicians call fans to gather as they sing songs of support for each man who will enter the ring that day. As the crowd enters, men and young boys stand in one corner preparing them selves, physically and spiritually for the coming battle. Small cuts are made on the striking arm and a mixture of herbs, blessed by an Islamic healer, is rubbed into the cut to provide strength. These same herbs are also placed in charms and amulets, with torn pieces of the Koran, which are worn around the neck, arms and legs and stuffed into the pockets, all providing protection and strength against their opponent.
Dambe boxing began as a martial art practiced by Hausa men in preparation for war. Over time members of the Hausa butchers guild would fight in matches traveling through the north during harvest and festival times. The fights were considered tests of bravery for the guild, honor for the family and village, and a rite of passage for marriage. It also provided a historical link with forefathers who practiced the martial art for hundreds of years. Today most men fight for sport or fame and money. Some can collect up to thousands dollars from fans or are offered large gifts, such as motorbikes or a paid trip to the Hajj in a country where many survive on $2 a day.
During combat, one arm is considered the “spear”, or striking arm, and the other the “shield”, or the blocking arm. The “spear” is wrapped carefully in material or rope. If it becomes unraveled the match is stopped until the "spear" is fixed. In the past the “spear” was dipped in resin and broken glass, but that practice has been outlawed beacuse of its violence.
Each match consists of three rounds, each round lasting only minutes. At the end of the three rounds, a victor is declared but many times both the victor and his opponent will be “sprayed” with money from fans in appreciation for their efforts and abilities. Once a victor is declared, they are paraded around the venue in a celebratory march before the next match begins.