It’s Sunday and the residents of Diego Suarez, a town on the northern coast of Madagascar are flocking to the local football field to watch Morengy – a traditional form of fighting similar to boxing and usually accompanied by music and singing.
A Morengy tournament consists of a series of matches pitting two fighters against each other and involves bare-knuckle punches, and in some cases kicking and head-butting are permitted.
Each match lasts one round and ends when one of the fighters exits the arena or is no longer able to defend himself.
I have practiced it for over 15 years and I have also tried other forms of boxing like trench boxing, kick boxing but I like Morengy because I do not have to wear gloves, so we fight with just our hands
With high levels of unemployment and poverty in Diego Suarez, the sport has also given idle youths something to do and at times provides them with a source of income.
A ticket to watch a day of fighting costs just under 1 US dollar but with the matches attracting huge crowds, promoters want to pump proceeds from the tournaments into development of Morengy, not just as a pastime but as a more profitable activity.
Promoters hope that the sport grows across Madagascar to a point where it can be recognised both on the national and international level.
Performed for centuries as rite of passage for young men coming of age, this ancient sport has become so popular here in Diego Suarez that matches are held every Sunday.
“At the beginning, the sport was aimed at teaching young children about strength and building character so that they can protect themselves against danger. For example, the Chinese have their own version of boxing, and so do the Japanese as well as the Thai people. We also have our own,” said Abel Cader, a Morengy coach.
A group of former mainstream boxers have come together to create an association that recruits and trains aspiring young fighters.
They want to revive the ancient practice as a well recognized sport that can engage the youth and create livelihoods.
“It’s the love of sports, I have practiced it for over 15 years and I have also tried other forms of boxing like trench boxing, kick boxing but I like Morengy because I do not have to wear gloves, so we fight with just our hands,” said Bruno, a former boxer.