January 24, 2010

BIG HEAD, BIG BALL, SMALL HEAD, SMALL BALL:

Afghans love to get their goat in national sport of buzkashi: The sport, in which players on horseback vie for a headless goat carcass to much crowd enthusiasm, is back in force since the Taliban's overthrow. Some dream of it being in the Olympics. (Tony Perry, 1/03/10, LA Times)

Banned during the Taliban's reign and resuscitated after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, the ancient, archaic and only lightly regulated sport is bigger than ever, according to officials who organize weekly games in several locations in the capital and 17 outlying provinces.

Friday is buzkashi day in much of Afghanistan. And so far, at least, the resurgent Taliban hasn't been able to thwart buzkashi -- literally, "goat grabbing."

Haji Abdul Rashid, head of the government-sponsored Buzkashi Federation, has large dreams of leagues, corporate sponsorship, television and even acceptance for the Olympic Games.

"A buzkashi rider must be a real man," he said. "Not just in his body, but in his heart and his mind."

American anthropologist G. Whitney Azoy finds buzkashi a suitable metaphor for Afghan life: brutal, chaotic, a continual fight for control (in this case, of a dead goat).

Afghanistan, Azoy notes in his book "Buzkashi: Game and Power in Afghanistan," has been largely bereft of strong institutions that provide security and stability. Instead, leaders are men who can seize control by means foul and fair and then fight off their rivals. The buzkashi rider does the same.

Rashid, a former buzkashi champion, has a slightly different take.

Buzkashi reminds Afghans of their warrior culture, he insists, and the goat symbolizes their vanquished foe. A buzkashi game harks back to the days when warriors would put on a ritual to show their leaders how they had won the most recent battle.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 24, 2010 6:41 PM
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