Sumba boxing elevates “combat-sport” to a new level. Forget “Bare Knuckle”, “MMA” or any video stuff you’ve been watching on Youtube. This one has intense, scary, unique, energy going on.
It is performed on a full-moon night, prior to the collection of Nyale and the Passola festival. It is not a staged show, there are no tickets (yet) but rather an event where every one gets involved, wanting or not.
Around 9:00 pm, people started gathering close to a small beach in Wanukaka. Army police was searching everyone, I believe for knives, weapons, and stones. At the beginning I didn’t understand such measures, but later on they made perfect sense.
As the hours passed, more and more villagers arrived. The previous year winners are considered heroes and had a special podium, along with local dignitaries. Local media were taking shots and making interviews, and I took the chance to snap some of my own.
Below, some of the champions and dignitaries.
It was my first time, and I was curious about the beach – passed the security, went down the stairs and found some kids rehearsing the boxing, in friendly matches against each other. All seemed to be aspiring “boxeurs”, so it may is probably connected to transition into adulthood.
This kind of boxing doesn’t care much about defence. Punches are exclusively thrown with the right hand, kind of overhand rights, from an orthodox stance. Boxers wrap their right hands and fists in a saw toothed glass leaf, both for protection and to increase wounds on their adversaries. Before they’d also hold a stone, but that’s now forbidden. One of our staff members on the resort had some missing teeth due to that.
Before the “real fight” started a procession of dignitaries came down and sat on a privileged high place – the only with a view over most of the beach. Others climbed small trees, got themselves some room at the stairs, or just stayed over the sand. There was some chanting going on by a group of elderly people (I believe to be Ratus/ priests among them) along with minor fights.
Below: the singers and some attendants, prior to the fights.
I had no guide, no one to really me explain what to expect and where to stand, so I followed my instinct. Sometimes found myself in the middle of real fights and had to move away, steadily and quickly, to avoid being sucked in. Anyway, that’s how I got my best shots.
Soon I began to understood that there was a respected man leader who organised the matches. There were two teams of maybe 12 men, (I believe, from the same village) lined against each other, who’d start on the leader’s command. There were maybe 2 or 3 rounds. I couldn’t be so sure, neither about the winners. Decisions weren’t clear and crowd often protested.
At one time, others got involved, and a major riot started. People threw sand at them, to prevent them from fighting, until police intervene and started shouting their guns to the air. That happened maybe two or tree times.
In absence of a convenient place to sit and totally exhausted to get in and out of the fights (otherwise it was impossible to shoot, as the light was extremely low and the movements quite fast), I called the night and went home. It was maybe around 2:00am. The event, as far as I know, lasted until dawn.
Below, the shots from the fighting: