By: Shukria Kohistani
KABUL: In Afghanistan, often during winter season a headless goat (or often a calf) carcass grabs thousands of spectators when it comes in its traditional buzkashi game that has long turned into a national sport within the country’s National Olympic Committee.
Dating back to 600 years and roughly similar to polo, but with a dead goat body or beheaded calf (because of its resistance against the power of the strong horse-riders called chapandaz), buzkashi or goat grabbing, has to be fast and extremely physical that played on horseback.
Horsemen have to maneuver around the field of play and ride toward the target circle to drop the cattle carcass to achieve a score.
Non-Afghan citizens interested in watching the game and journalists covering the event, also pronounce the national sport as buzkashi, which literally translates as ‘goat pulling or goat grabbing’ in the Afghan official Dari language.
Although, played mainly by Tajik and Uzbek horsemen, in the country’s northern provinces, it draws attention from other Afghan tribes such as Pashtun and Hazara, even in the central Bamyan – the main hazara minor province, the game is played and watched with passion and excitement.
Decapitated, the calf’s legs are severed at its knees, and to harden the flesh, the body has to be soaked in water for 24 hours and to make the carcass heavier the disemboweled body, sometimes, has to be stuffed with grits and sands, before the event starts.
A chapandaz or buzkashi player usually wear heavy and tick clothing such as leather boots and head protection to guard himself against his rival player’s whips and boots, during the heavily violent and barbaric match, Najibullah, a known horseman from Mazar-e-Sharif province told The Kabul Times.
“We are chapandaz from our ancestors and have played the game for 10 years in Balkh province. It brought big changes in my life. I got introduced with governors, district chiefs, traders and elders of the tribe and they encouraged me in this field,” said Najibullah.
The skill and other sports help the youth remain with healthy body and avoid drugs, he advised.
In the sport, both horses and riders, required to have a huge amount of fastness, agility, physical strength and horsemanship to help him rapidly lean on the horse saddle side to pick up the carcass from the ground and reach to the certain circle called Dayera-e-Halal.
“Buzakshi is held in three types, competitive, in locally held events and in grouping,” Hotak said adding when is organized competitive; two teams compete on the corpse and any of them gained more scores is announced the winner.
According to him, a leader of the tribe, locally called Khan can also organize the game on various occasions, such new year, local wedding ceremonies as well as Eid days, he further said.
In Mazar-e-Sharif and other northern provinces, a khan or a rich man can select a physically strong chapandaz from among the youth between the ages of 16 to 20 years and train them for years to get prepared for the game. But sometimes it is compulsory; a khan has to train one of his sons to remain for long with him as a chapandaz.
The game is also used by the rural power-brokers or the Khans, district chiefs, provincial and parliament members, tribal elders and businessmen as well as rich horse owners as the way to enhance and exert their power and reputation among their political and business rivals, Hotak told media.
Not in northern Afghanistan, also in the ancient Bamyan province, with no insurgency to disturb security, the game has thousands of spectators including women.
The key person who sponsors and successfully manage the game can gain enormous prestige among the people.
The man has to supply the vast sums of prize money, after announcing the hard game, inviting the guests and organizing the extensive hospitality. But sometimes he is disgraced publicly, when often the game boils over into fierce and bloody brawls.
It sometimes takes several hours for a player to grab the beheaded goat’s carcass and drop it into the target circle.
Not only horsemen and horse owners, all Afghans are enthusiast of riding horse and watching the brutal match regularly held in snowy condition or early spring season.
Taliban hardliners, during their tenure, discouraged the sport as immoral, causing a sharp declined in the amount, but after their ousting, the sport once again gained its popularity within the nation.
The animal rights activists have also repulsed the use of cattle carcass in the game, no sign of slowdown has been still seen in the sport, even buzkashi remained as a national sport keeping its place as the National Buzkashi Federation within Afghanistan National Olympic Committee.