Traditional sports and games are acceptable local activities that have been handed down from one generation to another. The rules for these games and sports are simple and informal. The skills are less advanced, the specifications of facilities and equipment are not standardized and the number of players for each game and sport may vary while the systems of scoring are not rigid. In Nigerian setting, there are a lot of traditional sports and games that cut across over 2008 ethnic groups some of which reflect cultural heritage and religious background, of the people in general.

Traditional sporting activities have several important functions in various Nigerian communities. For instance, they promote the much needed sense of belonging, group identity, group survival, cooperation as well as the enhancement of social norms and ideas. They equally serve as forms of entertainment, media for acquiring physical fitness, achieving respectable social status, opportunities for selecting strong husbands by ladies and as rite of passage into adulthood. Some writers have argued that traditional wrestling serves as legal and judicial mechanism for setting boundaries of farm plots and rice fields and a vehicle for demonstrating prestige and power as well as a means of ensuring a successful harvest.



In the Nigerian child’s education, the use of indigenous games seem to have been lost from the ordinary life. The Nigerian child of today is better disposed to Western games than the indigenous ones. Even though the commonly used Western games like computer games, ludo, snooker are rich in manipulative skills, they do not enhance emotional, moral, social and adjustment skills needed by these youth. The level of adjustment failure of the Nigerian child may in part be his/her adjustment  mechanism.

Despite the differences in environmental conditions and standards of living amongst the different people, the urge to play games remained a dominant characteristic in every race. It appeared, therefore, that games were built around age-old urges of running, jumping, whipping, chasing, fleeing, hiding and seeking, hunting, guessing, dodging, dancing, singing and clapping, all aimed at entertaining, relaxing, educating for adjustment, honesty and developing intellectual skills, moral values and harmonious living.

From culture to culture in Nigeria, all indigenous games are fortified with rules and regulations that ensure healthy rivalry and keen competitive spirit, such that whoever failed would be satisfied to have put up his best. The winner also values the victory because of the keenness of the contest.

It is through games and sports that a child is systematically and intuitively taught the values of strength of character, sense of purpose, courage and determination, perseverance and endurance, individual distinction and collective action (team spirit), morality and ethical responsibility to oneself and the community. It is with this value-driven premise that the logic behind most of the indigenous sporting rituals in our culture can begin to manifest. Let us look at some of these prided games that we have neglected.



Sharo: This is a public ceremony of caning and whipping among the Fulani youth. On the face value, it can easily be dismissed as a barbaric culture which has no place in a modern social order. However, it is a sporting exercise to test manly values; determination and tenacity of purpose as a go-getter because the ultimate prize for victory is a beautiful bride. One can equate this tortuous exercise to the mental torture our young men and women undergo in the examination halls nowadays to show their competence at the end of their school career.

Traditional Wrestling (Kokawa/ Ijakadi/EkereMgba/Gidigbo/Mbok): In the olden days, Kokawa was used as a criterion to marrying a beautiful girl in as much as one could prevail against the opponent. The essence of African wrestling is to see that a wrestler is able to throw the opponent’s back to the ground and at the same time the opponent tries to prevent this move.

The traditional wrestling can take place on a sand-filled circled surface measuring 6 metres in diameter, free from injurious particles. The categories of the wrestlers depend on their weight from 45kg -100kg and above. The duration is three rounds three minutes and 2-3 minutes for resting. The wrestler with the highest points is declared the winner.

Some of the basic techniques are, double leg pickup, single leg pickup, head pulling, head with arm pulling, duck underpush down, duck under leg crossing, front suplex and Back suplex.

In Igboland, able bodied young men challenge themselves in a wrestling contest and whoever that throws the other on his back to the ground becomes the winner. Young men prepare themselves for this traditional contest which often takes place during the Iwaji day (new yam festival). The wrestling contest is usually accompanied with fanfare as the contestants are surrounded by supporters who formulate songs and beat the drums ceaselessly while the young maidens flock the arena and watch the men who excel with the hope of being wooed into marriage.

Billiard(Arin/Akhue): Arin game could be regarded as African billiards. Marble seeds are used to play the game on a very smooth ground. To start the game, the player will squat behind the base line and spin the marble seed in their hands in order to dislodge or knock off the marble seeds of their opponent. A number of marble seeds are arranged on each half side of the ground, which are regarded as target seeds, while there are other seeds known as bullet seeds.  The bullet seeds are for spinning to knock-off the targeted seeds. Each opposing play shot all the bullet seeds; the first players to knock of the targeted seeds are declared the winner.



The bullet seeds should not be thrown but to be spinned towards the targeted marble seeds.

Boxing (Dambe/ Ese kikan):Dambe was a Hausa martial sport that took place at the village level. Matches were held on festive occasions and the art was the special province of members of the butchers’ guild.  Originally a means of practicing military skills, today guild members use the game as a means of demonstrating masculinity, accruing personal prestige, and bringing honour to one’s family and village. While the art in contemporary practice would seem to have little applicability to field combat, beyond developing physical strength and instilling courage in competitors, certain elements of the modern game allude to a more combative ancestry.

For example, Dambe uses only the dominant hand to strike, while the “weaker” hand is extended toward the opponent and used to ward off blows. Hence, the lead hand represents a shield. In fact, the dominant hand is referred to as “Spear,” while the other is labeled the “Shield.” Grasping and grappling is used to permit a strike with the more powerful hand, which in turn may represent what one does when one’s shield is broken. In addition, Dambe competitions are held between groups who meet in dueling pairs on a symbolic battlefield and the metaphor of warfare is apparent in the continuing use of the term “Killing” to signify the strike that leads to winning a match.

Individual Dambe matches consist of a series of combats between individual pairs of opponents who, are customarily evenly matched in size. Dambe boxers can strike anywhere on the body with the fist, head, or feet. As noted above, only one fist (whether the right or left depending on the fighter’s dominant hand) is used to strike. This hand, balled into a fist, is wrapped in a length of cloth called a kara over which is bound a knotted cord called a zare.



As the opponents stand in a knees-flexed ready position, the bound hand is extended well to the rear in preparation for delivering clubbing blows to the opponent.  The front hand is held fingers spread with the palm facing the opponent as a “Shield”. This hand may be used to grab and hold the opponent’s head in preparation for a strike.

Traditionally, the lead leg (the left in the case of  a right-handed boxer) was wrapped by a chain extending from ankle to knee. Known as akayau, this could be used as a weapon when kicking. Nonetheless, kicks could be executed with either foot.  Although the use of the akayau has been abandoned in contemporary Dambe boxing, there is still a preferred kicking leg that is often wrapped in cloth for protection.

The goal in Dambe is to deliver a single “fatal” blow (kwabdaya), meaning one that causes the opponent’s hand or knee to touch the ground (or, even better, knocks him flat to the ground). In keeping with the idea of a “Fatal” blow, this latter is called “Killing” the opponent. The concept of the single “Killing” blow that has been maintained in all forms of modern Dambe is one of the elements that make the art distinct from western boxing.

Board game (Ayo Olopon/Igori): The game starts by placing 4 seeds in each of the 12 cups on the board, and each player sits with 6 of the cups on their side of the board.

For each turn, a player chooses a cup, takes all the seeds in that cup (it will be 4 seeds for the first player, but it may be more or less as the game continues), and goes around the board in a counterclockwise direction, planting one seed in each cup as they go.

If the last seed lands in the opponent’s cup, one can capture all the seeds in that cup, and add it to one’s bank.

The seeds can be captured in other ways, but if one of these variations is chosen, it must be decided upon before the game, and the rules apply until the end of the game.

If the last seed lands in an opponent’s cup, one may capture the seeds only if it previously contained 1 or 2 seeds.

If one last seed lands in an opponent’s cup, one may trace the path backwards, and capture the seeds in cups containing only 2 or 3 seeds, but only the ones passed.

Rather than stopping when one finishes the current cup, one may pick up all the seeds in it, and continue to drop one in each consecutive cup, and continue doing this until one reaches an empty cup. If that empty cup is on the side of the board, one may capture all the seeds in one’s opponent’s cup right across from this last cup. If it is on their side, one doesn’t capture any seeds.



Ipenpen: This is a Yoruba game for two players. About 300 (or more) seeds are scattered on the floor. The first player begins by dividing them into two roughly equal parts, for he is proud to be able to divide something equally without a measure or without counting. When he thinks he has divided them equally, he asks his partner to take the part which he thinks is the greater. The latter does so and then counts the seeds in both parts. The second player will now do the dividing and the first will make his choice of the two parts. The game continues thus until one of the players has won a shilling (or some other previously specified amount). This game is played by adults and is a form of gambling.

Akpakoro: This ancient game was designed to teach children to be cautious. It moulds them to be good followers. The children listen to the one singing the Uli with rapt attention, and does what the ‘Uli’ (lyric) singer does and whoever does is last to comply is eliminated from the game. In order to become the winner, the children must channel all their attention on the person singing the song.

The ‘Seeds’ are split up so that each player has 12 of them. The players face each other, each kneeling behind their own row of ‘Seeds’. The first player rolls one of his ‘Seeds’ towards the other player, trying to hit one of their ‘Seeds’. If the first player successfully hits one of the opponent’s ‘seeds’, he/she captures the seed and continues to try.

If the ‘Seed’ thrown does not hit another ‘Seed’ on the opponent’s end, the opponent keeps the ‘roller’ and then takes his/her turn. The game continues until one player has captured all the ‘seeds’ from the other player. The lines can be placed further apart. The number of seeds can be changed.



Ige: This is one of the most ancient and most widespread of all games. This game, known by the Yoruba as ige can be played by several persons. On the floor are seven fairly large pebbles (these must be small enough, however, for all seven to be held in the hand).

The first player picks up one of the pebbles and tosses it into the air, then quickly takes another from the floor and catches the first as it descends. All this is done with the same hand. He does this six times. If he succeeds in catching them correctly at each throw, he continues, this time picking up the pebbles two at a time (he is permitted to arrange them in two beforehand). This is done three times, since there are three groups. If still he has not failed, he picks them up three and three, then four and two, five and one, and, finally, all six at once. If he fails at any point in the game, another takes over and the first must wait until his turn comes again and must continue from the point at which he failed.

Boat race: Boat race is native to Nigeria. The original creation date is unknown, but it is still played to this day. It is usually played on a nice sunny day with people divided into two teams. For beginners, it is recommended to play on a flat area with lots of space, but people with more experience sometimes like to play in places that will increase the difficulty level, such as hilly or uneven areas. Boat race is a very social game, and usually played on festive occasions. People would be yelling, laughing, and communicating as the game progresses. The person who is facing forward is called the cox, or steersman. The playing area between the starting line and finish line is called the river. The stick that is held between the players legs is called the boat.

Multiple sticks are tied together end to end to make a length that will reach between each player’s legs while they are standing in a single file line. This stick creates a connection between all the players. Nigerians traditionally use bamboo, but sticks will work fine. They also mark off the playing area, or “river”. They usually use pieces of rock or sticks to mark the area, but any material will work as long as it distinctly marks the playing area.



When the game is being played, a team will be in a single file, all holding a stick between their legs with players facing backward. One of the players is facing forward; this player is known as the steersman. As the team is navigating through the river, the steersman yells to his team how to get through the obstacles on the course. While the steersman is guiding their team down the river, the steersman experiences anxiety, excitement, frustration, and sometimes anger that his team is not listening to him. Since the other players are facing backwards, they experience high level of anxiety, excitement, and hesitation that tend to make them move cautiously because they must rely on the steersman to guide them down the course. If trust is lacking between the team and the steersman, this will cause hesitation in the movement, and will ultimately slow them down. This game is highly reliant on the steersman because the team must be comfortable enough to run backwards without seeing where they are going. As a whole, a team that is familiar with its individual players will do better than one that is not. A tactical advantage is to pick a responsible steersman that everyone trusts so the team can run with little hesitation. This game also relies heavily on teamwork, and cooperation. Throughout the game a team should be communicating, and not just running aimlessly. Another advantage is to tell people on the team to keep one hand holding the stick between their legs, and one hand on the waist or shoulder of the person in front of them to help them move as one unit. Boat race is meaningful because each of the team member’s individual actions affect the outcome of the race.

Whether their individual actions are good or bad, it affects the system as a whole. Given the fact that an action can result in a bad outcome for the team, team players will try to win.

It is a good thing that a Traditional Sports Federation of Nigeria was inaugurated as a National Sports Association on 19, August, 1993. The Traditional Sports Federation was mandated, among other things, to identify all traditional and invented sports and games, develop and promote them through creation of awareness and organised competitions on the sports and games, with a view to selling same to the international sports community.

In 1995, the Traditional Sports Federation organised demonstration march in Lagos (Western part of Nigeria), Kaduna (Northern part of Nigeria) and Owerri (East and Southern part of Nigeria). Six selected traditional sports and games were organised for demonstration, namely Ayo, Abula, Langa, Kokawa, Dambe and Aarin. The following year, 1996 the Federation featured four of its sports and games, such as Ayo, Abula, Dambe and Langa on demonstration held in Makurdi, Benue State [Northern part of Nigeria) from 11, to 20, April 1996).

In November 1996, the traditional sports Federation organised a coaching clinic in Minna, Niger State to impact the harmonised basic rules and regulations of the participants. Earlier, Zone VI in collaboration with the Traditional Sports Federation of Nigeria organised a coaching clinic in Ayo game for the states that constitute the Zone VI in order to acquaint them with the latest rules and regulations of the game.

In addition, since the inauguration of the federation, there have been major achievements which include, inclusion of Traditional National Sports Festival on scoring basis, inclusion of some selected traditional sports and games such as Ayo, Langa, Abula, Kokawa (Traditional Wrestling) and Dambe (Traditional Boxing) in the primary and secondary schools curriculum respectively, The Traditional Sports Federation of Nigeria is doing its best to also project the newly developed sports and games to international levels.

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