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Photographer's Note

Buzkashi is an ancient game from the steppes of Central Asia. Literally translated from the Persian, the name means "goat pull/or grab". It is especially popular in northern Afghanistan, as well as in Kabul, around the Spring celebration of Nowrouz (“new year”). Buzkashi has a long history in Afghanistan and today remains as popular as ever- perhaps even more so because the previous ban on playing, enforced by the Taliban as recent as a few years ago, is now void. The game is considered to be the National Sport of Afghanistan.

Buzkashi is played on horseback and involves individuals (and sometimes teams) attempting to carry a water-soaked, sand-filled decapitated goat or calf carcass around a flag on a playing field, while others try and steal it away. The sole objective is to drop the weighted carcass into a small circle- designated as the goal. Rules tend to be pretty ambiguous, which makes for quite an exciting and fierce contest. Games may go on for days and are a combination of high-adrenaline open field chases, as well as rough and prolonged, jam-packed scrums. Sometimes these high speed chases turn into full fledge charges where riders attempt to penetrate the center of the scrum via force- especially when the other horsemen surround the goal. Tens to hundreds of riders and their horses may be involved in the game, which translates into quite an awesome spectacle.

Some consider Buzkashi to be the most violent sport on earth. Although I’m not sure I'd adhere to that, I can see how someone could make the argument. Each horseman carries in his hand a short, but thick stemmed whip called a “qamcheen”, which he uses to control the horse. You also see the riders placing the qamcheen in their mouth when carrying the carcass, or when attempting to grab and steal the carcass away from others. However, I have also seen this same whip used on opposing competitors, as well as competitors' horses. In addition to the qamcheen, men's flailing arms and elbows, plus the added violence of horses biting, leaping, and kicking in the scrums, lead many players to wear clothing with extra padding, such as heavy coats known as "chapans" (see "Buzkashi 2"). Horsemen sometimes also wrap multiple layers around certain parts of the body, especially lower legs, for additional protection. There is even a special type of Buzkashi hat, made of thick fur to protect the head, which some opt for. All of this is for good reason when you see, for example, a player leaning horizontally off to the side of his horse, almost completely out of his saddle, reaching around or even under an opposing player’s horse to snatch away the carcass…all while galloping at full speed! Because of these risks, it is not uncommon to see a player fall off his horse and get injured.

But as a foreigner watching such a wild and, at the same time, extraordinary game, what I find most intersting out of all the characteristics of Buzkashi is the boundary of the playing field- or lack there of. In some cases, it is almost impossible to tell where the large field starts and where it ends. With a game that attracts such a large number of bystanders, this lack of boundary can become quite dangerous. In fact, the handful of games I have attended, the crowd is practically a "part" of the game (like a dynamic human boundary). There have been a fair share of times when I, and friends, have had to dodge or quickly flee for safety from oncoming charges by the horses. This gives a whole new meaning to the term “crowd participation”. And even though this risk makes the game that much more exciting, the lack of boundary sometimes leads to extreme carelessness on the behalf of a handful of foolish and daring bystanders (who may try to touch or even grab the carcass before the horsemen get it). Just the other day, two men attempting just this were trampled and killed by charging horses in a neighboring village.

Photo Information
  • Copyright: James McDowell (JMcDowell) Silver Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 17 W: 1 N: 81] (655)
  • Genre: People
  • Medium: Color
  • Date Taken: 2007-03-16
  • Categories: Event
  • Exposure: f/4.5, 1/500 seconds
  • More Photo Info: view
  • Photo Version: Original Version
  • Date Submitted: 2007-04-23 7:41
  • Favorites: 1 [view]
Viewed: 9177
Points: 24
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Additional Photos by James McDowell (JMcDowell) Silver Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 17 W: 1 N: 81] (655)
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