Prior to the advent of the Internet, many countries celebrated their culture and traditions playing sports that were unknown to other regions of the world. Now, with the existence of the Internet and the greater ability to travel to countries once considered hard to get to, these obscure sports are becoming better known worldwide. Many have attracted interest and have enticed people to travel to other countries to witness and even participate in them.
Three such sports that you never knew existed include Buzkashi, Camel Wrestling, and Makepung.
Known as the national sport of Afghanistan and played in the countries of Central Asia, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan as well as the United States, Buzkashi (which means “goat pulling” in Persian) involves horse-mounted players who attempt to place a goat or calf carcass in a goal. The team that scores the most goals in regulation time wins.
Played since the 13th Century, Buzkashi is said to have started when tribes in Afghanistan would swoop down on horseback and attack other tribes to steal their goats or cattle. As a result of the raids, tribes would develop strategies to combat the attacks and the game developed from there.
Initially, a game of Buzkashi would last for a few days because the scoring lines were often several kilometers away from the starting circle.
Currently, the game is played in several Central Asian countries including Kyrgyzstan, Pashtunistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan.
The game is played on Fridays in Afghanistan and often attracts thousands of spectators.
The game is called Kokpar in Kazakhstan where the National Kokpar Association was created in 2000 to hold annual championships among adult and youth players. All 14 regions of Kazakhstan have professional teams with the region of Southern Kazakhstan hosting as many as 32. Twenty-seven teams are located in the Jambyl region and 18 teams are in the Akmola region. Kazakhstan’s national team currently holds the title of Eurasian Kokpar Champions.
The game is called Kokboru in Kyrgyzstan where it has been played since 1870. Official rules were defined and regulated in 1949. Games began to be held in hippodromes in 1958.
Buzkashi is generally played in Tajikistan from November through April every year when the weather is most favorable. The temperatures are too hot to play any other time.
Descendants of the Afghan Royal Family, the family of King Amanullah and King Zahir Shab introduced the game into the United States in the 1940s.
Men in Cleveland, Ohio played a variation of Buzkashi called Kay Kaz consisting of two teams of five players each. There were as many as seven teams in the Cleveland area that played the game, which was similar to polo. It was divided into three “chukkers” or periods. The play space was about the size of a football field and had goals at each end that were large wooden frames with holes about 2-feet square standing on tripods. The goal of the game was for players on horseback to drop a sheepskin-covered ball into the goal. The ball was carried in the player’s hands or held by the long-fleeced sheepskin. A team was required to pass the ball three times before attempting to score.
A Buzkashi player is called a Chapandaz, who is said to train rigorously and is commonly in his forties. The horses used to play the game also undergo rigorous physical training. A player does not necessarily own the horse he rides. Instead, landlords and rich people own them because they have the wealth to provide the facilities where they are trained. A Chapandaz is permitted to select a horse and the owner willingly gives it because he wants a master Chapandaz to ride and win with it to bring pride to the owner. A horse commonly costs up to $50,000 and competes in the sport for as long as 20 years. Today, the horses come from Uzbekistan or other Central Asian countries. Afghanistan no loner has the ability to breed these champion horses due to decades of war.
Because of the cost of the sport, a Chapandaz will partner with a businessman or wealthy patrons much like a NASCAR racer enlist sponsors.
The sport is described in several fiction and non-fiction books including The Venetian Betrayal by Steve Berry; The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini; Horsemen of Afghanistan by French photojournalists Roland and Sabrina Michaud; and Buskashi by Gino Strada.
Two books that describe Buzkashi were also made into films including Les Cavaliers (aka Horsemen). The game is also a key element of the book Caravans by James Michener.
In addition, there are a number of films that reference the game including La Passe du Diable, The Horsemen, Rambo III, High Road To China, Episode two of “The Harvest of the Seasons,” part of the documentary The Ascent of Man, the Indian films Khuda Gawah and Kabul Express, The Man Who Would Be King, and Buzkashi Boys, a joint international-Afghan short film that won awards at several international film festivals and was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Short Film (Live Action) in 2012.
Items required to play the game include:
- Carcass of a goat or calf
- A horse
- A Thick coat
- Wooden or metal rods tucked into the boots for extra protection
- A helmet
- A whip
- Shin padding
- Knee pads
The carcass is commonly beheaded and disemboweled with two limbs cut off. Before the game it is soaked in cold water for 24 hours to toughen it up and sometimes packed with sand to give it extra weight.
Rules Of The Game
The Afghan Olympic Federation established the rules of play. Prior to the creation of these rules, basic guidelines were followed including:
- No whipping of fellow players intentionally
- No knocking players off their horses deliberately.
There are two main variations of the game –- Tudabaraj and Qarajai.
Tudabaraj is the simplest form. The goal is for a player on horseback to grab the goat or calf and move in any direction until he is clear of the other players.
In Qarajai, a player must carry the goat or calf carcass around a flag or marker at one end of the field, then throw it into a scoring circle at the other end. The player uses the whip to keep opposing horses and riders away. The whip can be held by the teeth when not in use and in order to free the hands for control of the horse.
Players are prohibited from strapping the carcass to their bodies or saddles, but are allowed to wedge it under one leg so that their hands are free.
The rules of the Afghan Olympic Federation are strictly followed for contests held in Kabul, Afghanistan.
The game is played by two teams of 10 players each, but only five players from each team can play in a half. The playing field is square with each side being 400 meters long. Each half is 45-minutes long with a 15-minutes break between halves. A referee administers the game.
The rules of Kokboru, which is played in Kyrgyzstan, have gone through various changes through history. Current rules are:
- There are two teams with 10 players each.
- Four players from each team are permitted on the field at a given time.
- Teams can substitute players or horses.
- The playing field is 200 meters long and 80 meters wide.
- Two goals are placed on opposite ends of the field.
- Each goal is 3.6 meters in diameter and 1.5 meters high.
- Players are allowed to try and steal the carcass away from the player who possesses it.
- A goal is scored when the carcass is placed into the opponent team’s goal (kazan).
- The carcass is brought to the center of the field after a goal is scored where play is resumed.
Buzkashi is played in a number of ways in Tajikistan. The most common is a free-form game played in a mountain valley or other natural arena. Each player competes individually and must grab the carcass and carry it to a goal. Players are permitted to form unofficial teams or alliances, but are discouraged to do so to encourage individual play. Often dozens of riders will scrum simultaneously to retrieve the carcass. Tajik Buzkashi commonly consists of several short matches with a prize awarded to each player who scores a goal.
Commonly played in the Aegean region of Turkey and other parts of the Middle East and South Asia, Camel Wrestling is the natural activity of two male camels that fight each other to mate with a female camel. To encourage the battle, a female camel in heat is led before two male camels. Spectators are permitted to bet on one of the two competing camels.
Since it is a natural for male camels to fight each other during mating season, the activity has occurred for as long as there have been camels. However, ancient Turkic tribes originated the sport more than 2,400 years ago.
In the 1920s, the Turkish National Aviation League held camel fights as a way to raise funds to purchase planes for the Turkish Government. Later in the 1920s, the government discouraged the sport because it thought it was too backwards an activity. In the 1980s, a new government of Turkey started to encourage the sport again because of its importance to Turkish culture.
Due to the motivating factor, the activity is held during the camels’ mating season. Camels fight each other using their necks as leverage to force the opponent to fall. A camel is declared the winner when his opponent falls to the ground or flees the fight. Most fighting camels are bred in Iran or Afghanistan.
As of 2011, there are more than 2,000 wrestling camels in Turkey that are specially bred for the competition. A fight-worthy camel has been known to sell for more than $20,000.
About 30 annual festivals that include Camel Wrestling takes place in Aegean Turkey from November to March every year. It is believed that as many as 100 fighting camels compete in about 10 matches a season. Competition takes place on Sundays in soccer stadiums and last for about 10 minutes. At the end of the season, there is a tournament of champions in which the best camels compete. The event is very popular and is considered a major sport in the rural villages of western Turkey.
Male camels with a single hump or double humps are allowed to compete.
There is much pomp and ceremony involved in camel wrestling events. The wrestling camels are decoratively dressed and walk through the streets as music is played on drums and zurna the day before the actual battle. The camel owners wear checkered caps and scarves around their necks, jackets, and special pants and boots that are shaped like an accordion.
The night before the tournament camel owners and wrestling fans gather to celebrate, meet with friends, and enjoy food, drink, song, dance, and sell rugs at auctions.
During the day of the tournament, people gather to watch the matches and buy food, drinks and souvenirs offered from stalls.
The competing camels walk a lap around the field before the start of the match. The master of ceremonies known as the cazgir announces the names of the camels that are scheduled to compete, which marks the start of the event. During the matches, the cazgir serves as a sports announcer describing the competition.
- Two male camels
- One female camel
Rules Of The Game
Successful wrestling camels have developed a number of techniques to win their match. They include:
- Catching their neck over an opponent’s back.
- Hauling up their front foot to transfer their weight to the opponent.
- Taking hold of the rival camel’s front leg with their teeth.
- Biting the legs and dragging them under and across the rival forcing to fall.
- Breaking the windpipe of the downed camel.
A camel wins in one of three ways –- he makes his rival leave the field, makes the rival cry and unable to stand, or causes the rival to fall. A camel owner who is worried about the safety of his camel can also throw a rope on the ground to stop the match.
Derived from the word “kepung” meaning “chase” and originating on the island of Bali in Indonesia, Makepung is a racing sport involving teams of two water buffalos hooked together to a wooden plough that pull a jockey, who is balanced on a small two-wheel cart called a “Cikar.” The race is run in the town of Jembrana for locals at about 7:30 or 8 o’clock in the mornings of July to November before the heat make the buffalos sluggish. There are also races held for tourists every other Thursday at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon on a special track near the town of Perancak.
Migrants from the island of Madura off the northeastern coast of Java introduced the sport to Bali. Before it became popular in the 1930s, Farmers who harvested rice from the wetlands would race their water buffalos after their work was done. Today races are run on dry land.
Teams are formed from two clubs –- the eastern division, located east of the Ijo Gading River and the western division, west of the river. The buffalos that race for the east division teams wear red flags and buffalos from the west wear green flags. Each division has its own circuits that are used to practice or for formal competitions.
Today, not only do farmers participate and support the sport, workers from the cities also participate and come to observe the races. One big race called the Governor’s Cup that is contested every year, typically include as many as 300 pairs of water buffalos or more and takes place on a Sunday in October. The Bupati’s Cup occurs on the Sunday before Indonesian Independence Day at the town square in Negara.
Rules Of The Game
The buffalos race a “U”-shaped track that is about 1 to 2 kilometers long and 2-meters wide. The team that crosses the finish line first with a lead of 10-meters or more is the winner. However, if the second place team narrows the distance to less than 10-meters, then that team wins.
Since the 1970s, the rules of the race have changed. For example, previously only one buffalo raced for a team. Now there are two. The wagon that carries the jockey was larger, but has been replaced with a smaller version.
Jockeys are permitted to whip the buffalos with sticks and some also use special sticks with small spikes to get the buffalos to run faster. So it is common for the buffalos to be bleeding after a race. Jockeys are also permitted to twist the buffalos’ tails to get them to run faster. It is said that buffalos can reach a speed of up to 60-kph.
The winning buffalos are sold for stud and can earn up to twice the market value for its owners.