Responsible for producing 80% of Ghana’s boxing talent, photographer Luca Sage travels to Bukom to document the neighbourhood’s youngest as they dodge the punches and seek the balance of power and grace this generational sport demands. Navigating their lives and the boxing ring, Bukom’s young fight for a future beyond their small community and a place among legends.
It’s Sunday evening and a crowd is forming. In a small fishing community in the heart of Accra, Ghana residents flock towards a central point of attraction. As excitement and laughter bounces between the eager spectators, the dim, dust clouded streets are lit with the electricity of anticipation. During this twilight hour, two contenders stand eye to eye in a ring defined by no more than four wooden benches and their own presence within it. While the audience cheers, the fighters stand in silence. Gloves on and steeled with focus, these fighters as young as three years old, know that the latent force their fists conceal.
Inherited over generations, shaped by culture and refined with practice, fighting has always played a leading role in Bukom culture. Before the English introduced the rules of boxing during Ghana’s colonisation, the Ga people who once claimed the Accra area routinely practiced the martial sport of asafo atwele (group fighting). This martial art -dance hybrid stressed courage, hardiness, swiftness and skill. Often, asafo atwele was used to settle disputes within the community and eventually established a culture of combat. Generations after it’s popularisation, boxing now presents itself as an opportunity for the people of Bukom to fight for a future that stretches far beyond their small community.
For the young men that are raised there, the streets provide an ever present reminder of what they seek to leave behind. Dilapidated dirt roads and cement floored gyms are frequented by fighters who earn their belts competing in the most elite boxing clubs of Chicago.
‘To be champ is always the goal,’ says photographer Luca Sage ‘Even though the games are friendly, it’s just human nature to have that desire to be the best, to be winner, to be the strongest, to be the fastest.’ Drawn to the neighbourhood of Bukom by it’s legendary reputation, Sage sought to capture a glimpse of the life of the area’s youngest contenders. Maintaining a global recognition for producing 80% of Ghana’s boxing talent, in the past century Bukom has produced five world title winners, including ‘Africa’s Floyd Mayweather’ Bukom Banku and the great Azumah Nelson.
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As Ali put it, only the most successful boxers can wear the wings of both the butterfly and the bee.
In the same way that football takes precedence in the Britain, boxing is ingrained into the children of Bukom’s upbringing from the moment that they can strap on a pair of gloves. Many of the community’s boys begin their formal training at the age of six. Making use of the many gyms established by the village’s champions, they learn the technicalities of the sport, and master the nuances of self-control that a sport like Bukom requires. ‘It’s that ability to move their body in a way that flows so gracefully and then suddenly out of nowhere, BAM!’, describes Sage. ‘You get this eruption of power and aggression. It’s like a paradox, a duality that goes back to our human nature’. As Ali put it, only the most successful boxers can wear the wings of both the butterfly and the bee.
Luca Sage is a portrait, editorial and advertising photographer based in the UK, working internationally. Luca’s portraiture has won various international awards and been selected on four separate occasions for the National Portrait Gallery’s prestigious ‘Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize’.
Luca Social Anthropological background is integral to his subsequent photographic practice and favours a ‘slow’ style of documentary portraiture. Initially wanting to be a professional footballer, Luca realised his future lay elsewhere when Chelsea F.C. let him go at the age of 16 but his love and passion for sport still remains strong.
To find out more about Luca, you can find his website here.
Or follow Luca @lucajsage.