The thrills and frills of Dambe Fight-Night in Abuja
SSaturday 5th January is sure to remain etched in the minds of people in and around Abuja who love traditional sports, especially the game of Dambe, as they were given the rare opportunity to be enthused by some of the best Dambe fighters from the country.
The game of damba is associated mainly with the inhabitants of the North, in particular the Hausa-Fulani and is said to have originated around two centuries ago in the ancient city of Kano when the emirs of the time called for the fight of damba in the preparations for war. Dambe, which is the conventional sports equivalent of boxing, is traditionally played with kokawa (wrestling) to mark the end of the harvest season in many northern communities.
One fascinating thing about the sport is that each fighter aims to hit “kill” their opponent until they are totally subdued. This is achieved most often, either by kicks or punches which often knock an opponent down or knock them to the ground.
Judging by the physicality and brutal nature of dambe, it is not a sport for lilies. So even fans of the game have to be brave and brave to resist the sights and sounds of fighters punching and kicking. However, the excitement that accompanies victory usually transcends the winners to their supporters who usually applaud the proceedings with traditional musical instruments.
The recently held Dambe Night-Fight at the heritage village square, Kado Estate in Abuja, drew a large crowd including Europeans, Arabs, Chinese and Indians who thronged the well-secured venue to savor the relentless display of physical strength and courage by the Kano Dambe team fighters under Mazaje Traditional Sports Promotion Limited and their counterparts from Nasarawa State.
The foreigners were so enthralled that apart from cheering the fighters, they handed out cash rewards by sprinkling them (the warriors) with hard currency and naira notes in thanks for their brilliant displays.
Organized by the African Warriors Championship in conjunction with SWA Sports, the event took off with the grueling contest which saw Autan Kudawa of the Nasarawa State team knock out his counterpart Abba Shagon Roget of Kano after three consecutive innings known in the local language as “turmi”.
Although the Nasarawa State team started on a winning note, it was their Kano counterparts who had the last laugh. Kano team under the tutelage of Nura Muhammed Sulaiman picked up 24 points from eight wins in the 10 rounds of fierce dambe duels to scoop the winners cash prize of N250,000 while Nasarawa team received the sum of N150,000 as second prize. .
Speaking to our reporter at the competition, Kudawa Dambe group coach Goni Bulama Bayya said that the traditional sport is gradually undergoing a transformation to adapt to modern sports trends.
For example, he explained that in modern dambe contests, the use of all sharp objects like broken glass sewn inside the ‘kara’ (rag fighters tie their fists like gloves) which could cause serious bodily harm and sometimes death is prohibited.
Bayya also told our reporter that it is difficult to disconnect dambe warriors from mystical powers and concoctions, as he said based on their beliefs, most of them puncture their palm and insert an amulet , “Zarce” inside. This, he said, could cause a warrior to cut down his opponent seconds after a fight.
“We train to discourage all of these things. Those who don’t engage in these sharp practices that give them unfair advantages over others are trained by good coaches like me,” Bayya said.
“But some indulge in fervent prayers to Allah to the extent that they may sacrifice rams and even cows for God to grant them victory over their adversaries,” he added.
He further explained that dambe warriors who practice voodoo or what is called jazz in the local parlance are hard to break. They barely bow to blows and blows that hit their body as they are believed to be immune to pain.
“Those who don’t support each other with charms hardly last long in combat,” he repeated.
Talking about how new warriors are recruited and trained, Nura Muhammad Sulaiman, a dambe coach with Mazaje Traditional Sports Promotion Limited in Kano, said entry requirements have since changed. It’s not like the old days where an interested warrior would be drafted into the team once they showed interest.
“We interview anyone who shows an interest in joining us so that we can learn about their background. So afterwards, we expect him to bring his guarantor. We then give him a form so that he knows our terms and conditions.
“We operate under the Kano State Sports Commission, so we do everything according to established rules and regulations,” he said.
Interestingly, there are good plans for the game of dambe as an African warriors championship, the organizers of Dambe Fight-Night in Abuja aim to make it a global sport that will one day feature in the Olympics.
According to Maxwell Kalu, Founder and CEO of the African Warriors Championship, the Abuja Dambe Night-Fight was selected and organized because it embraces the culture and traditions of the grassroots people.
“We wanted to bring it to town for people who might be interested in seeing this kind of action and a unique sport. We just wanted to offer something different that people aren’t used to,” he said. .
Kalu also said that although for now the focus is on Abuja and Lagos, the African Warriors Championship intends to roll out more events in 2022 and beyond. “And we certainly intend to take the Fight-Night brand to other parts of the country, but you know it has to be progressive and done right. So this is just the beginning for us,” he said.
Kalu also said that the African Warriors Championship, founded two years ago, was born out of a pure love for combat sports and his experience in kickboxing.
In the same vein, Aisha Shuaibu, the president of SWA Sports, partner of the Dambe Fight-Night, said that she is passionate about sports because she comes from a sports background. “I grew up watching and playing basketball at home and in high school. I have a family that loves sports and athletics.”
She also said that sport in Africa has great potential to promote unity and tourism, enable economic growth and provide employment opportunities among many other possibilities.
Speaking at Dambe Fight Night, Aisha said the Fight Night brand was designed to provide intense entertainment for fans of all kinds of combat sports.
“Dambe was selected as our first edition to introduce a wider audience to a sport that started and is more familiar to grassroots communities. It celebrates Arewa’s heritage, pride and strength.
“To execute this event in a professional manner, we have partnered with African Warriors, a company that has been working for years to promote dambe in Nigeria and outside,” she added.
Amina Jaafar, a dambe lover in Abuja, could not hold back her ecstasy about the game as she said she was thrilled to attend the first edition of Dambe Fight-Night. According to her, she was not disappointed by what she saw that night.
“The event was unique and new, something Abuja needed. It has also helped showcase traditional fights while supporting local talent. It was well organized with a variety of fighters and fights.
“I especially enjoyed the 100kg fight as well as rooting for the red side in all the other fights. The fire performance was an unexpected addition that I really enjoyed. It was captivating to watch. I would love to attend a similar event in the future. I congratulate the organizers for a successful Fight-Night
Another Abuja resident, Onochie Esenwah, said the Dambe Fight-Night was a one-of-a-kind experience and he enjoyed the experience and looks forward to more events to come.
“The exhibition had all the thrills and the fighters put on a show. The fighting spirit was no slouch as the production felt like an old painting come to life. Kudos to the organisers, SWA Sports and African Warriors, for bringing culture to our doorsteps,” he said.