Thursday, November 26, 2009

Something fun from Afghanistan

Truthfully, there is very little cheerful news out of Afghanistan, and I fear that if Obama goes ahead with the war there, it will ruin the American economy and destroy the American Constitution. More on that later.

However, I am a fan of the medieval tournament, and Afghans like some other Central Asians preserve a sport that must be a lot like the old melee combats of medieval Europe: buzkashi or (outside Afghanistan) kok-boru. Any good article about buzkashi will catch my attention and probably find its way into this blog.

When I was staying at an American hotel last week, I got a free copy of USA Today every weekday morning, and to my astonishment I found that it is better than it used to be, by a lot. The editors no longer seem to be completely allergic to substantial journalism. One of the more solid articles was this piece on buzkashi. A website called Newser ran an excerpt and added some new pictures.

Here's a taste of the USA Today piece:

Is the world ready for a sport played with a headless goat carcass?

Haji Abdul Rashid thinks it is and has big plans: corporate sponsors, television rights and beyond.

"We want it to become an Olympic sport," says Rashid, who heads the Buzkashi Federation.

To understand how ambitious — even crazy — this is, consider the game. Buzkashi, which means "goat grabbing," is a violent sport with virtually no rules. Players, called chapandaz, gallop at breakneck speed over a dusty field, fighting over a dead animal without a head.

Buzkashi is undergoing a renaissance in Afghanistan since the Taliban regime was ousted from power by U.S. forces in 2001. There are more games, players and spectators than ever before. Rashid says he has already contacted some Olympic officials.

Once dominated by powerful warlords or tribal leaders, buzkashi is attracting a new generation of businessmen who are using the game to meet contacts and get clients, explains Said Maqsud, who owns a Kabul-based security company that employs more than 1,000 people.

"That is a new concept," Maqsud says. "Now businessmen like me can be involved."

Rashid knows the game needs to be standardized to export the sport, played principally in Afghanistan and some Central Asian countries. Previous efforts to impose consistent rules have gone nowhere.

The game has no rounds or time limits. Galloping horses regularly spill off the field, sending terrified spectators running for safety. Some games are played with 12-man teams; others are scored individually with hundreds of horses careening around the field.

"It's very violent," says Maqsud, who also has seven buzkashi horses. "Animal rights activists wouldn't like it."

A spokesman for the International Olympic Committee, Mark Adams, said he was not aware of any overtures from buzkashi officials. He said there might be concerns that the sport is not widely known and has no governing body that regulates it.

"I'm not sure it's a universal sport," Adams said.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Hoppaquin Hay (Quinn)


Hoppaquin Hay is a man-at-arms mentioned in Froissart's Chronicles. I like to think of him as "the famous singing cowboy of the 14th century." I threw out that name as a possibility when we got the horse, and soon enough he was known as (the Mighty) Quinn.

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