Afghan Polo

This edition of “Get to Know Afghanistan” will cover sports, since we all like sports. This one in particular is widely called the National Sport of Afghanistan: buzkashi (pron.: booz-ka-shee). The quickest way to describe this game is this: polo played with a headless goat carcass. Yes, goat.

The sport – a loosely-used term – apparently originated in the 13th century, most likely brought to the region by the Mongols under Genghis Khan. It has survived the centuries largely unchanged, which is not surprising as technology is largely useless in replicating a dead, headless goat, and your average buzkashi player – called a chapandaz – would call you a pussy for sporting padding and a helmet.

Detailed descriptions are available with a quick Google search, but suffice it to say that it is a supremely demanding sport, and both the chapandazi as well as their mounts are veterans of extensive training and practice. Horses under five years’ experience in the sport are generally not allowed on the field. Riders will often hold the reins and cropsย in their teeth as they hang down to grab the goat off the ground.

Two major versions of the game exist, but suffice it to say that there are teams, a rugby-esque starting scrum, and a basic requirement to carry the headless goat away from the seething mass of mounted, angry Afghans and either be judged ‘clear’ or navigate around a flagged pole and subsequently deposit your goat into a ‘goal’ area. Few rules govern play, and the opposing team essentially has any means available to stop the goat-carryer from making a point. In some either version, play may continue for days.

Naturally, this sport is bet on heavily, and many times wealthy Afghans will train and provide the horses for a team to compete, all of which fall along established clan and tribal lines.

Though I’ve not personally witnessed one of these before, I became aware of this sport on my first tour. Rest assured I’ll attend if possible, because this kind of shit can only be described with the term, “epic.”

This link will get you started on some video of buzkashi (please ignore the Rambo clip):


44 Responses to “Afghan Polo”

  1. Shimoniac Says:

    I’ve actually seen clips and heard descriptions of buzkashi. Epic is an adjective that falls far short of the reality. My own powers of description are completely inadequate.

  2. Too bad while growing up as a young lad in Ohio, there wasn’t more headless goats lying around to play with…I could have been a champion,.

  3. What the F@ck? I don’t even know what to say!

  4. This sounds absolutely barbaric, but I guess they may think some of the games we play are awful too!

  5. ahahahah xD that sounds like solid fun.

  6. Amazingly, I know about buzkashi. Fun times.

  7. That was my immediate thought: Oh, yeah. Rambo III…

    You’d think someone in the last 800 years might have thrown out the idea of a synthetic goat that could be used over and over and wouldn’t deprive everyone of a good meal… I guess it wouldn’t be as batshit-crazy masculine that way, though.

  8. whiteladyinthehood Says:

    Holy Shit! That’s some of the craziest ass shit I have ever seen and I’ve seen a lot of crazy things! I hope you don’t get a chance to play this game! (I’m gonna tell Erickson on you – quit abusing goats, dammit…)

  9. Personally I would prefer watching a different game, one where two groups of over-sized, muscular young men on steroids run full-tilt into each other episodically while trying to pass an air-filled bladder over a goal line.

    Granted, injuries in that case are limited to serial concussions and a guaranteed increase in brain disfunction with age, and the occasional spinal injury of course, but the best thing about it is that no animals are injured.

  10. Don’t they also play something VERY similar to polo with the goat’s head? Or was that just the province of the Mongols?
    But fear not, football (or soccer, to you infidels) is growing fast, I hear. As is golf – interesting in that the particular course I saw used shellholes for several of the course holes, and that the golfers travel not only with caddies, but with “goons” wearing body armour and carrying assault rifles. And they aren’t fully sure they cleared all the mines – talk about hazards! ๐Ÿ˜ฏ
    So, with fall in the air around here, I assume you will be eagerly expecting your first shipment of summer clothing. Hint – layered mosquito nets DO work as a blanket. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Don’t know about the goat’s head. Probably some little kid gnawing on the fucker on the sidelines.

      • You know, just because Blackjack isn’t with us in physical form, doesn’t mean he ain’t making notes – so be careful how much goat-disparaging you do. Knowing him, he’d raise a goat-zombie army to come ‘n’ git ya! ๐Ÿ˜‰ (Oh, and don’t worry, I have a new goat friend named Stormy. She’s not quite as wise as old Jack, but just as mean! ๐Ÿ˜€ )

  11. For a moment I thought you might be making this up… It’s sounds almost too crazy to be true. Really hope you get the chance to see a game for yourself, and take pictures!

  12. This is so much more interesting than watching peaks come out on a mass spec, or whispering sweet nothing’s to fungi so that they degrade substrate you put in their vials, or injecting gas into sample vials and praying the isotopes don’t fractionate. No, this goats head polo match is far more interesting than any science I do. Thank you Mr. Rants, I have now added this to my daily bullshitting hour. And I am lmao even while my advisor walks past the door.

  13. Someone needs to forward this to the IOC for inclusion in the 2016 games.
    And I was surprised they paused play to recover the guy whose horse rolled over him.

  14. These horses are supposed to be quite amazing, with long bloodlines, and valued more than wives.
    It’s probably a kindness they kill the goat before the game starts.
    Go and take pictures!

  15. ….not unlike some fraternity parties I attended back in the day…

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