Dembe is a Hausa martial sport which was historically the art for the special province of Hausa members of the butcher’s caste groups - a caste considered inferior in the twentieth century.
Originally, the martial art used to be a means of practicing military skills, but in recent years, it is a game for demonstrating masculinity, accruing personal prestige, and bringing honor to one’s family, community or village through “striking”.
Dambe fights are traditionally staged after harvests in rural areas, though recently, fights now takes place on a weekly basis in different Nigerian States and beyond. Most fights are either for the pride of their respective villages (for tag teams) or individual fighters personal achievements in the ring.
The goal of Dembe fights is to deliver a single “fatal” blow (kwab daya) such that the opponents’ hand or knee touches the ground and in doing this, the fighter finds every means to ensure the opponent is knocked flat to the ground
to end the match.
Matches are untimely scheduled for three rounds where each round ends with either when there is a long period of inactivity, a boxer’s hand binding becomes loose, or either fighter voluntarily breaks his fighting stance.
In place of the gloves, a Dambe fighter’s hand, balled into a fist, is wrapped in a length of cloth called a “kara” over which is bound a knotted cord called a “zare” which is traditionally dipped in grounded glass to make the blows more fatal in order to knock the opponent out or weak. Iron-armed striking hand and glove-like shield held in the warding hand.
A Dembe boxer uses only the dominant hand to strike while the weaker hand is extended towards the opponent to ward off blows. The lead hand represents a shield while the dominant hand represents spear, which is reserved to strike at any given opportunity.
Just like United Fighting Championship (UFC), Dembe allows for the use of kicks and punches, the deadlier, the more chances for winning. Also, grasping and grappling is used to permit a strike with the lead hand, which in turn represents what one does when one’s shield is broken.
Contrary to the conventional boxing rules, Dembe has no fixed regulation as boxers can strike any body part with the fighter’s dominant hand (Either the left or the right hand depending on the fighter).
Dembe fighters are known for using some form of physical items such as amulets which may be clenched in the fighter’s dominant hand to inflict various types of physical or psychological damage on the opponent.
With the use of amulets, absence of protective gear plus the absence of medical personnel at the games, many fighters have been left in a vegetative state while some have died due to injuries sustained during the games. To prevent these, fighters often indulge in the use of drugs to numb pains and boost courage.
Culled: Thuglife.com, kumakona.com, Thomas Green EJMAS 2005
Photo credit: Caters News Agency