In Nigeria, the Dambe fights showcase diversity, division

Stephanie Findlay –
Poised like a scorpion with one bound fist ready to strike, the Dambe fighter glared at his opponent, daring him to make the first move.
Dressed in just shorts and an amulet made of black leather and wire, he suddenly swung his fist in a punishing arc to knock his opponent on the jaw and win the match.
Dambe is a brutal style of combat where one fist is designated as a shield while the other, wrapped in a cloth, is a spear to strike the opponent.
It is traditionally practised by Hausas in Nigeria’s north, but on this night the fight was in the southern city of Lagos.
“This is an ancient tradition in the north and we’re bringing it down to the south,” said the commentator. “We want to see teeth rolling!”
Instead of in the usual dusty squares and small arenas, the Dambe fighters are under spotlights set up on the beach in Lekki, an affluent suburb of Lagos, where a big screen replays fights jumbo-size and drones whizz overhead.
Unlike in the north, where the crowds are mostly men, in Lagos women were in the crowd.
The Dambe night in Lagos was an exercise in compromise — and patience — as organisers worked to bridge the cultural gap.
Commentators alternated between Hausa and English and were conscious of educating the audience on the basic rules of the sport.
Even the music was split. Drummers and a singer playing the hypnotic melodies of Nigeria’s north alternated with a DJ playing hit tracks from pop star Davido and rapper Illbliss.
The athletes seemed used to this cultural fluidity.
“It’s a Hausa sport but I’m Yoruba from Ogun state,” said Abdul Akeem, a 33-year-old fighter.
In his 12-year career, Akeem has travelled across all of Nigeria to fight.
“It’s what I do for a living,” he said. flexing “This is my weapon.”
Dambe is said to have originated from butchers in the north, who would fight to settle scores and for glory and wives.
Today, a Dambe fighter can win 200,000 naira ($556) in a fight, said veteran Abubakar Usman.
Some of the old traditions are still used today.
The 28-year-old’s right forearm is completely covered in one-centimetre-long scars made from razor cuts seeped with “medicine” to help him win.
“It’s my work,” Usman said, “it’s my business.” — AFP