Tuesday, July 19, 2011

National Sport

Recently, they started sending out emails to those of us working on our compound that have a Dari word of the day and something about life and culture in Afghanistan. Here was today's, about Afghanistan's national sport.

Afghan 101: Buzkashi (بزکشی)

Buzkashi, meaning "goat-killing" is the Afghan national sport. It is team sport played on horseback where skilled riders grab a goat or calf from the ground while riding a horse at full gallop. The goal of a player is to grab the carcass of a headless goat or calf and then get it clear of the other players and pitch it across a goal line or into a target circle or vat. Competition is typically fierce. Prior to the establishment of official rules by the Afghan Olympic Federation the sport was mainly conducted based upon rules such as not whipping a fellow rider intentionally or deliberately knocking him off his horse. Riders usually wear heavy clothing and head protection to protect themselves against other players' whips and boots. The boots usually have high heels that locks into the paddle of the horse to help the rider lean on the side of the horse while trying to pickup the calf. Games can last for several days, and the winning team receives a prize, not necessarily money, as a reward for their win.

The game consists of two main forms: Tudabarai and Qarajai. Tudabarai is considered to be the simpler form of the game. In this version, the goal is simply to grab the calf and move in any direction until clear of the other players. In Qarajai, players must carry the carcass around a flag or marker at one end of the field, then throw it into a scoring circle (the "Circle of Justice") at the other end. The riders will carry a whip, often in their teeth, to fend off opposing horses and riders. Horsemen are frequently carried away and in their excitement they will bump, hit and jar opponents. When they return, they are usually bruised or have a broken limb. Sometimes, they choose a site for pitch near a river and a few horsemen conspire to drown their opponents. The Afghans play for very high stakes and take the game very seriously. It is not uncommon for riders to continue in the game with cracked ribs, broken limbs and various head injuries

Buzkashi is often compared to polo. Both games are played between people on horseback, both involve propelling an object toward a goal, and both get fairly rough. However, polo is played with a ball, while Buzkashi is played with a dead animal. Polo matches are played for fixed periods totaling about an hour; traditional Buzkashi may continue for days, but in its more regulated tournament version also has a limited match time.

Buzkashi continues until a team is announced the winner. At the end of the game, a horse race is arranged which is known as 'paiga' . Horses used in paiga races are different from those meant for Buzkashi. Younger boys are not allowed to participate in such races because race horses are not saddled. Some ride their mounts bare-back and others use a thin saddle blanket.

Pretty interesting, huh? I'm starting a league when I get back to Portland.


  1. I'll work on some t-shirts. Maybe this could be part of the "recess time" league.