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Top 7 Traditional African Sports

Most people fail to realize that even before the import of sports like soccer, baseball, basketball, rugby and the rest into Africa, there were indigenous African sports that enjoyed huge patronage and goodwill but unfortunately these sports have been relegated and slowly being forgotten. The spirit of some of these games can be re-awakened and who knows, can even be incorporated into the Olympics. Here’s brief guide to some of the traditional African sports that originated from the continent.

1. Ta Kurt Om El Mahag

There was a sport that bore a striking resemblance to the European based baseball called Ta kurt om el mahag played among Berber tribes people in the Libyan desert. It is popularly believed that the sport was exported to Europe during the Stone Age and renamed baseball thereafter.

2. Nguni – Stick Fighting

Nguni, stick fighting african sports
© Combat Otaku

This martial art form is popular among the Nguni herders in South Africa and is strongly rooted in their history. It’s a stick fight that can last up to five hours where opponents take turns at playing offense and defense scoring points based on which part of the body is struck. It is a bloody sport and sometimes opponents can even die but devotees of the sport wave off the criticism, saying it encourages cultural expression and requires skill, discipline and a firm physique. It has been banned in parts of South Africa but is still played in some townships.

3. Dambe Boxing

Dambe Boxing
© Sunday Alamba/Flickr

This is an ancient form of boxing with ties to Hausa of Northern Nigeria. Participants travel to different villages at harvest time and challenge those of the butcher class to duel as festival entertainment. The dominant arm of both fighters are tied together with rope and they try to strike themselves with punches and kicks until one person drops to the floor. This is known as “killing”. Does MMA ring a bell?

4. Donkey Racing

This is the most popular sport Kenya’s island, Lamu. There are no cars on this island. There is annual race organized by the island’s administration and this event attracts thousands of people who enjoy watching jockeys race well trained donkeys with saddles. This sport has been around for centuries and requires a plethora of skills.

5. Senegalese Wrestling

senegalese wrestling
Senegalese Wrestling – © Christine Vaufrey/Flickr

Popularly called “Laamb” in Senegal. This sport is over a hundred years old and began as a recreation sport for farmers and fishermen. Currently elite fighters can command up to $100,000 per match and is a giant rival of soccer in Senegal.

6. Savika

Savika - African Bull riding
Savika – Bull riding © Haja Rasambainarivo/Flickr

This sport has its origins in the Betsileo community in Madagascar. Angry bulls are ridden and it’s like a rodeo show. A Brahman cow is released from its cage and players try to mount it and hang on for as long as possible. No awards are given at the end of the day just crazy respect.

7. Ngolo And Capoeira

The capoeira is a very popular afro-Brazilian sport that combines elements of dance, music and martial arts. Capoeira originated in Brazil in the 16th century slave trade era in response to the Portuguese slave masters ban on practicing African traditions, especially martial arts. This capoeira is believed to have its roots in the West African country Angola where it is referred to as “ngolo” or “engolo”.

We also recommend our guide to the 5 most colourful capital cities in Africa.


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