Most commonly practiced by the Kabye people in Togo, Evala is a traditional wrestling art from west Africa. For young men in the area, it is considered the penultimate element in a rite of passage into adulthood, which includes climbing three mountains, intensive mental and physical training, and circumcision. Those who fail the training are not initiated into adulthood. Fights take place on a yearly basis at the Evala festival.
Although wrestlers are initiated regardless of whether they win or not, winning the fight is of primary importance-a loss is considered to bring shame on the participant and his family. This encourages the fighter to train hard and focus on his master’s teachings.
Also known as “Hausa boxing,” Dambe is practiced by the Hausa people, who reside mainly in Nigeria, but are also prevalent in large groups across Chad, Ghana, Sudan, and Cameroon.
Predominantly a brutal fist-fighting art, in the past it included a wrestling component-known as “Kokawa”-but many of the original wrestling moves have now been lost. Accompanied by percussive music, contests consist of three rounds and take place on a flat, mud-baked surface; the fighters create plumes of dust as they brawl.
Traditionally, participants wrap their dominant leg in a metal chain and bind their fighting fist, called the “spear,” in rough twine. Fighters are taught to adopt a wide stance, with their guard raised high above their heads. They aim to use a single strike with the spear to knock down their opponent, known as “killing.” Usually the left hand, referred to as the “shield,” is used to parry or block. Roundhouse-style kicks are also sometimes employed. A mate is won when a fighter forces his opponent to touch the ground.
Fights usually occur during harvest time, when competitors-often farmers or butchers-come together and fight, wearing traditional loincloths. There is a spiritual element to the art and practitioners wear amulets, which they believe give them supernatural protection.
Dambe is starting to gain commercial interest and is often used to advertise products. With money now on offer for some bouts, fighters travel from far and wide to compete.
Nuba fighting includes both wrestling and stick-fighting elements, and is practiced by the Nuba people, who live in the Kurdufan hill country of central Sudan. Contests are regularly organized between male members of neighboring communities, who aim to bring honor to their village, rather than to achieve personal success. When wrestling, a fighter wins the match by throwing his opponent to the ground; pinning is not allowed and there are no submissions.
Tournaments are usually held after the harvest to offer thanks to the spirit world for a plentiful crop, and are accompanied by feasting.