Dambe or Dembe, also known as Kokawa, is a form of boxing associated with Hausa’s. Historically, Dambe included a wrestling component, known as Kokawa, but today it is essentially a striking art.
The tradition is dominated by Hausa butcher caste groups, and over the last century evolved from clans of butchers traveling, to farm villages at harvest time, integrating a fighting challenge by the outsiders into local harvest festival entertainment.
It was also traditionally practiced as a way for men to get ready for war, and many of the techniques and terminology allude to warfare. Competitors crouch down in a ready stance, extending their free, unwrapped hand out as far as their opponent will allow. The idea is to test your reach, and tempt your opponent to make a move, and maybe leave himself open.
The boxers can stare at each other in this pose for what seems like minutes before striking. Currently the men who dedicate their lives to it are wanderers, itinerant labourers in search of fame, or the sons of boxers – born into the ring.
“Dembe”, is exceedingly dangerous. Serious injury, and even death, are a real risk. One of the few rules in Dembe is that if your fist wrapping comes off, you must stop and re-do it, but not all boxers are so disciplined. All competitors belong to one of two clans that travel from competition to competition fighting each other over and over again.
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