New year brings new season of buzkashi to Afghanistan
January 17, 2015
KABUL, Afghanistan — With a swirl of dust, sweat and pounding hooves, the annual season of buzkashi, Afghanistan’s national sport, is in full swing.
The final months of winter traditionally serve as the informal season when riders mount horses to wrestle over a decapitated and disemboweled calf or goat. Buzkashi is translated as “goat dragging” in the local Persian, but a calf carcass is usually used because it lasts longer during the pulling and tugging.
A game of horsemanship that traces its roots to the medieval nomadic tribes that roamed Central Asia’s steppes, buzkashi is still played in various forms across the region, but Afghans are perhaps the most famous players. The game was immortalized by Hollywood in the third installment of “Rambo,” when the action hero plays buzkashi with mujahedeen fighters before shooting down a Soviet helicopter.
The game was banned under the Taliban, but has made a comeback since the regime’s fall in 2001.
Matches are notoriously haphazard affairs with widely varying or nonexistent rules, although more regulated versions have appeared in recent years. Riders usually compete as individuals and try to fight off other players to carry the carcass around a flag and across a field to a chalk circle that serves as an “end zone.”