Africa has diverse ways of fighting with all tribes developing their styles. The Zulus of South Africa stick fighting is learned from a young age, as early as the herd boys, protecting the family’s herds of cattle, sheep and goats. Each opponent has two sticks, one for defence and one for the attack. The attacking stick is isikhiwili, and the defence stick is an ubhoko and the shield carried by some tribes is an ihawu. There is a specific skill required to avoid the opponent’s knobkerrie, the bat with a knob on end.
When these herd boys become men after their circumcision ceremony, they no longer herd the animals, but by that time, they are well accustomed to sticking wielding. On occasions, fighters from different kraals (villages) meet together on neutral ground, and the men pair off, and the fight begins. There is an induna (chief) who acts as a referee and stops “dirty” play. These fighters do not pull their punches, and with the results, there are many cracked skulls and bloody heads. On occasion, there has also been brain damage and death.
The Hausa of Nigeria
The Hausa engage in the form of fighting called the Dambi. The idea is to get the opponent to submit. The match lasts three rounds. A round is when there is no action between the fighters, or if one combatant or the referee calls a stop and if a body part touches the ground. There is no time limit. The fighting fist is wrapped in cloths and rope. In the past, this hand was dipped in resin and crushed glass, but this has now been banned. The other side is used to fend off or grasp onto the opponents. The lead leg is wrapped in chains and is used for attack and defence. Fighters can use the back leg for kicking. The opponent who hits the ground first is the loser. At festivals, fights take place as part of the festivities with much fanfare and celebration.
The Suri is from Southern Sudan and Ethiopia. Traditionally the sub-tribes compete against each other in stick fighting. This form of struggle has rules and is used as a rite of passage amongst young men and can become dangerous with injuries and sometimes death. Today, with the on-going conflict in these areas, submachine guns are part of the festivities.
Traditionally stick fighting is used in mock fights and dancing. The stick is usually just over a meter in length and wielded in figure eight in front of the body. Reliefs of Tahtib as far back as 2500BC have been found on some pyramids. Tahtib was also taught as part of military training together with bow shooting and wrestling. Today Tahtib is used in festivities by both men and women. As the head is the main target, only light touches are allowed to avoid serious injury to combatants.