“The warrior fights with courage not with anger.”
The popularity of combat sports like MMA and boxing here in the United States recently led me to start questioning other forms of martial arts throughout the globe. And upon doing some research, all of my findings kept sending me back to Africa; which isn’t surprising. So I wanted to share different forms of African martial arts that I found interesting.
Dambe, also known as Hausa Boxing, is popular in Nigeria, Niger, and Chad. It was historically practiced by Nigeria’s butcher caste groups (the men who handled the slaughtering of animals for the community) around harvest or festival time, and it was also considered a test of bravery, a rite of passage, and a preparation for war. Boxers fight with one hand; the hand that is covered is called the spear and the free hand is called a shield.
Tahtib originates in North Africa and it dates back to Ancient Egypt or Kemet. It is a stick-fighting form of martial arts that was used to train Egyptian soldiers. According to Atlanta Black Star, “the fighters use four-foot sticks called Asa, Asaya, Assaya, or Nabboot while they performed to music.”
Lutte Traditionnelle, or Traditional Wrestling, is commonly practiced in West Africa by way of Nigeria, Senegal, Niger, Burkina Faso, Togo, and The Gambia. This sport consists of two wrestlers who compete in a circular ring, and the goal is to get the opponent out of the ring. A fighter can also win by knocking down the other opponent.
ENGOLO or N’GOLO
Engolo or N’Golo is a fighting style that is practiced in Southern Angola around the Cunene River. It’s known as a rite of passage for the young people in the tribes in that area, and this style relies on leg movements; kicking and leg sweeps are vital in taking down an opponent. According to The History of Fighting, “many of the moves are reminiscent of capoeira fighting techniques and the African system may well have been one of the influences of the Brazilian martial art when it was first used by the slaves there in the 16th century.”
Capoeira is a martial art that combines elements of combat, acrobatics, music, dance, and rituals. Often called the “Capoeira Game,” it is performed by two people (with smiles on their faces) who play, not fight, symbolizing that neither is afraid of the danger to come. History records advise that Capoeira was created nearly 500 years ago by the African slaves (mainly from Angola) in Brazil. They invented the fighting techniques for self-defense using their traditional music, songs, and dance; it was later used for rebellion.
Musangwe is practiced in South Africa, and it’s a form of bare fist fighting and boxing. According to Luonde Vhavenda History, “Musangwe is Venda combat that is said to have started in the late 1800s. There are no prizes awarded to the winners; the fighters fight for personal pride and bragging rights for their villages.” The fights have taken place in the Chifude Valley and are practiced by the Venda people.
The Donga (stick fight) is practiced by Suri tribesmen in southern Ethiopia as a way to impress women. It’s a combination of ritual and sport, and its aim is to get young men used to bloodshed. Prior to the fight, the Warriors will try to drink two liters of cows blood, believing it will be full of vitamins; many of them end up throwing back up. The one-on-one battles involve 20-30 fighters on each side, and the winner gets to proposition a girl of his choice who will then decide to accept or reject him.
“Laamb” in Wolof, is Traditional Senegalese Wrestling. There are two forms of Laamb: the first allows wrestlers to strike each other with their bare hands, and the second is more acrobatic where hitting is not permitted. Once a wrestler’s back touches the ground, the match is over. Laamb is also spiritual as it is physical, with wrestlers having various rites and rituals before fighting. They never enter the ring without their “marabout” or JuJu Man (amulets) that they wear around their arms, legs, and waist to protect them against evil spirits.
These were just a few forms of African combat that grabbed my attention. I definitely plan on looking for professional trainers so that I can implement some of these fighting styles into my workouts. If you can think of any others, feel free to add them to the comment section below.
Until Next Time…
Hinson, B. (2016, January 20). Martial Arts around the World: Nigeria (Dambe/Hausa Boxing). Retrieved January 1, 2018, from https://martialartsaroundtheworld.com/martial-arts-around-the-world-nigeria-7e27b183d20f
Riley, R. (2015, November 4). 7 African Martial Arts You Probably Didn’t Know Existed. Retrieved January 1, 2018, from http://atlantablackstar.com/2015/11/04/7-african-martial-arts-probably-didnt-know-existed/
Sheppard, J. (2017, April 21). Stick-fighting warriors down pints of cow’s blood for strength before battling for the right to pick a girl from their remote tribe. Retrieved June 21, 2019, from https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4433226/Suri-tribe-Ethiopia-battle-sticks.html
La Lutte Wrestling. (2010, October 22). Retrieved October 28, 2019, from http://www.africanlens.com/topics/la_lutte_wrestling.
Let’s explain what Capoeira is! (n.d.). Retrieved March 11, 2019, from http://www.capoeira-world.com/about-capoeira/what-is-capoeira/
Musangwe: Venda Bare knuckle combat. (n.d.). Retrieved January 1, 2018, from http://luonde.co.za/culture-religion/musangwe/
The Art of Martial Arts. (2013, April 27). Retrieved January 1, 2018, from http://www.historyoffighting.com/art-blog/traditional-fighting-in-africa-engolo