The Katsina open air theatre, located in the ever busy Katsina-Jibiya road, which incidentally is the road that links Katsina state with neighbouring Niger republic is the venue for different theatrical performances among which is the traditional Hausa boxing better known as Dambe. MUAZU ELAZEH who was a spectator at one of the Dambe outings in Katsina recently writes.
A gate fee of only N200 allows fans unrestricted access to the venue of the boxing match where they know they will have the fun of their lives watching their favourite sport. The gate fee paid, spectators troop in their numbers into the open air theatre and find their seats, while waiting for the dambe to begin.
Dambe, arguably an old tradition in most northern Nigerian cities, is a sport that has refused to die in spite of the much touted modernity which appears to be putting many African cultures to the back burner.
In the ancient city of Katsina, once it is 5:30pm, fans of the dambe who understandably love the fiesta so much, troop to the Katsina Open Air Theatre, located at Kofar Guga along Jibiya road to catch a glimpse of local boxers as they pummel each other in a show of strength and frenzy.
The local boxers, usually engage each other in a boxing bout which is often arranged in a competitive manner with some gift items and cash for the winner. At the Katsina open air theatre, boxers and indeed the fans are often times entertained by local drummers whose music and rhythm is believed to serve as an energizer for the boxers.
Muhammad Muntari is the chairman of Katsina state Dambe Association. He said competitors are often times, matched in size noting "One fist is wrapped in pieces of cloth and the other is left bare."
"The history of dambe is as old as the history of Hausa itself. It is a culture traced back to butchers who at the early stage, were the ones doing it, but now it has become an all-comers affair and is used for money making."
"At the early stage, some of these boxers hardly mingled with other people as they stay in the bush and come out only to engage in the competition. Now, the trend has changed with most of the contemporary boxers doing more for money than for fame" he added.
Muntari said there was no specific time to consider a dambe match over, because it is determined by technicalities noting, "If at the end of a serious bout, no contender is killed, three rounds are allowed and if at the end there is still no winner, then it is considered a draw."
One of the popular dambe champions in Katsina named Horror, who declined to disclose his real name and has emerged victorious in many tournaments which he featured at the Katsina Open Air Theatre said the sport is dangerous as some contestants have lost their lives with others seriously injured.
"In spite of the danger associated with it, I still cherish it over and above any other job one can give me to do" Horror said and added arrogantly that he has never been defeated in two rapid successions.
"Since I started this job, I have never been beaten twice at a stretch and no single person has defeated me twice as well" he said.
Other renowned boxers in Katsina include Mai Kesa, Dogon Auta, Yar Dugule and Shagon Mada.
Shagon Mada is one boxer who was recently crowned as King of the Competition in Katsina after defeating his co-contestant in a keenly and fierce boxing bout. He told our correspondent that it takes skills and tactics to emerge victorious.
"Although one's physical strength could help, what stands out as far as my understanding of the sport is concerned, is the knowledge of the techniques. One has to be skilful and know both when and how to send the punch" he noted.
Speaking to our correspondent, Mai Kesa said his dream was to be a renowned boxer who will feature in international traditional boxing competitions. "My dream is to be known internationally as some one who excelled in the art of dambe through bravery."
With a bruised face obviously as a result of hard punches he received, Mai Kesa said "Granted this sport is dangerous as you can see, but I still cherish it and since it appears to be my only means of livelihood, I shall maintain it and practice as much as I can to reach perfection."
It is observed that some of the avid followers of the sport do engage in betting. Yunusa Saifullah, 23, said "Gambling anything has gradually becomes the norm and I have done that on several occasion, winning at some times and losing at other times."
Interestingly, the dambe competition is usually accompanied by drumming and songs by praise singers who extolled the physical strengths of the competitors as they slug it out at the stage.
Alhaji Musa Nayara is a drummer who frequents the Katsina Open Air Theatre to drum whenever the Dambe competition is going on. He told our correspondent that he inherited the business of drumming from his father "Who inherited it from his own parents" and noted that he made as much as N5000 "on a very good day."
Not surprisingly, there are usually side attractions as the dambe competition rent the air. Kola nut and cigarette sellers make brisk even as young boys and girls catch-in on the opportunity to make funs.
The chairman of Katsina state dambe association, Muhammad Muntari told LEADERSHIP Sunday that the association was preparing for the forth coming national cultural fiesta, and would resume dambe competition in Katsina once the national event was over.