Two men facing each other in the center of an open field, wearing traditional sarongs, their upper bodies bare. Their hands are covered with a strange kind of glove. A wild crowd gathers around the arena and cheer for their heroes. A strike, a strike back. After several hits, blood trickles onto the dusty ground: a good sign for next year’s harvest.
Traditional boxing is one of the Ngada and Nagekeo districts’ famed cultural attractions, which has been passed on for generations. These events are held periodically on certain dates and move from one village to another. The term for the boxing differs regionally, but usually translates as ‘fighting with one’s fists’. The people of Soa call it Sagi, whereas the community of Tadho refers to it as Mbela; In Zepe it was called Sarasedu, and in Rowa Village it is called Sudu; while in the Nagekeo district, especially around Boawae and in the villages of Rega, Nagemi, and Watugase, it is named Etu.
In the past, the boxing was held as a sort of military training for local warriors. Besides, the traditional boxing was – and still is – part of the yearly thanksgiving celebration. In this context, the boxers’ shed blood is considered to have a life-giving effect: Every drop of blood that falls on the ground is a blessing that anticipates an abundant future harvest.
In addition to this ceremonial function, the traditional boxing also serves as a means to facilitate communication, as well as strengthen social bonds among the villagers. The highly valued spirit of brotherhood is expressed in the unwritten rules that there shall be neither a loser nor a winner, and that boxers of the same family are not allowed to compete against each other. To avoid conflicts that could emerge from the fights, the opponents do not hold a grudge against each other, but finish their fight with a conciliating hug.
Unlike regular boxing, the traditional Florinese boxers are equipped with special gloves, or more precisely, weapons, called kepo (Soa Village) or wholet (Tadho Village). They are usually made of palm fibers glued together with a sticky liquid made out of palm sap. This cloth-like product is then wrapped into a weapon the size of an adult’s fist. Sometimes, pieces of broken glass are added to the cloth to make the gloves more dangerous and the fights more spectacular.
Fighting rules differ from one village to the other. However, kicking one’s opponent is not allowed anywhere. Each of the boxers has his own sike (Soa Village) or banggang (Tadho Village): a kind of personal coach and protector who gives directions on when to hit the opponent, and when to be defensive. These coaches are also in charge of pulling back the boxers if the fight gets out of control. The referee, dheo woe (Soa Village) or pampang (Tadho Village), ensures that the fight is held in accordance with the local regulations.
April is the best time to view the traditional boxing in Soa Village, while Tadho Village usually holds the festival in July. The attraction is not only open to local villagers; guests are also welcomed as spectators, and the daring ones among you may even jump into the boxing arena to join a fight (in a moderate, playful mode of course).