Nigerian photographer captures underground Martial art ‘Dambe’


August Udoh is a photojournalist and a big name in the craft of photography who has got unmatchable skills in putting forward excellent storytelling. With his skills of photography and that of creating a story through it, he is greatly praised for his work. He is praised and celebrated as the most talented celebrity photographer of Nigeria but it is the stories of those on the very margins of society that are more important to him.

From the super amazing Nollywood actresses to the well-famed afrobeat superstars, August Udoh has captured quite an amazing lot of people.

But this time around, it was not something famous but rather an underground art. August captured the underground martial arts of Nigeria called Dambe.

Dambe is a martial art sport in Nigeria where the aim is to knock out an opponent with a one-armed strike. In this new series by August Udoh, he captured the boxers who compete.

In the latest photo series by August Udoh, Dambe, he has encapsulated the pictures of ordinary working men in his camera. About the models of his series he said,

‘They have normal jobs. Some are truck drivers, others mechanics’

But with one exception – their downtime is spent competing in martial arts sport dambe.

What is Dambe?

Dambe is basically a traditional form of boxing where the participants fight with a single bounded hand for all three rounds. But one thing about this martial art sport is that this martial arts club is underground, its presence spread only through word-of-mouth. The same fact is quite apparent by the title of the series by August Udoh. People only got to know about this sport by hearing it from each other. It is completely underground.
Right when his absolutely thrilling photo series went online, it became the latest news for everyone to talk about in Nigeria. While giving an interview to CNN, August Udoh said,
“I had a security guard from the north who was talking about it and he showed me a video posted online I thought this is actually true – there is an underground fighting club that a lot of people in Nigeria don’t know about.”

The history of Dambe

The history of Dambe dates back to earlier centuries. This queer sport stems from the Hausa people in northern Nigeria. It was basically the local butchers of those times by trade who competed with each other and did Dambe. The foremost rule of Dambe is that it requires you to tie one hand with a material. The stronger punching hand known as the spear is traditionally tied with cotton and rope because it is the game of one arm that can kill. However, the other hand works as a shield against the opponent’s punches.

The contestants are allowed to kick as well. The fight only ends when one opponent falls to the ground. The falling is referred to as ‘kill’. Historically, the covered hand used to be dipped in resin and it used to be covered in shards of glass but over time it was banned. Instead of that, boxing gloves were introduced in some parts of Nigeria, to make this sport safer for people to participate in. However, due to the massive injuries the participants get at the end, a lot of people still consider it as a brutal sport and this is why it has been kept underground until now.

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The infamous game started getting popularity due to several dedicated YouTube channels that show fights. One such channel is Dambe Warriors which was launched last year and in this short span of one year, it has already got traction from a massive crowd. Today it has more than  57,000 subscribers and 15 million views.
Though the photo series of August Udoh presents more raw and massive energy of the art of the young competitors, in reality, Dambe is a sport of a poor man. The participants are generally low-income earners of society.
While Udoh’s images present the raw, unfettered energy of the art’s young competitors, dambe is a poor man’s sport. Fighters are almost certainly low-income earners.
They play to support their family and add to their minimum income. In the interview, Udoh said that the tickets for the fights are sold at around 500 Naira per person which is equivalent to $ 1.38.
 “Usually the fight organizers make 50,000 Naira ($137) a day.”
The competitors who win can something between $20 up to $500, which they can use to feed and take care of their families.
Udoh further added,
“As a fighter – champions earn a lot. If you’ve won a lot of fights then you get paid more. There is a hierarchy thing where you attract high fees because you bring in the crowd.”
 “People send money back to their parents, one fighter was given a house.”
Furthermore, the competitors get gifts from their fans as well. The fans bring gifts from their money and present it to their favorite fighter which does not only level up the morale of the fighter but also makes them feel good.
To interview and know more about the sport and the boxers, photographer Udoh spent a whole week on traveling around different states in the country.
However, these photographs raised many questions and became a subject of debate between different humanitarian groups. Many people criticized the photographs and said it was wrong to promote an underground sport of this nature. It is a dangerous sport and should not be made more publicly known about.

By Faiza Ahsan

A student working to achieve the aim to make a name in the world of digital marketing.