The Year of the (dead) Goat: astrology and inner Asian sports

Chinese Astrology follows a twelve-year cycle of animals who represent the character of the year ahead, and may have an influence over individuals, based on their own astrological animal, (and all kinds of other factors).  The Wall Street Journal welcomed the Year of the Goat by talking about the Goat Simulator game, which apparently is all the rage, and involves the player controlling a goat avatar that, as the WSJ puts it, “rampages all over town.”

When I saw the image of this goat flying through the air, what it brought to mind was the national sport of Afghanistan, Buzkashi.  We in America claim baseball, and maybe American football as national pastimes, pursuits in which highly trained athletes take a rigidly structured field to win points based on their manipulation of a small ball.  Buzkashi, literally translated to “goat grabbing” is a whole other thing entirely.

It may have been the precursor to that most upper crust of sports, polo, in which riders on specially trained mounts gallop along the field, swinging long mallets to strike a ball toward the opposing team’s goal.  However, in Buzkashi, variations of which are found throughout the steppes of inner Asia, instead of having a ball for a target, and a long stick to strike it with, the riders compete for control over the carcass of a goat.  It takes an expert rider to snatch the goat, balance it on a saddle and ride for the win.  The Afghanistan Online website has an explanation and two variations of the game, one requiring the rider simply to escape the other riders with his grizzly prize, the other in which the rider must carry the goat out and around a marker then return to a target zone in order to score (see, touchdown–just like football, only smellier).

Here in New England, people are all excited about the Super Bowl, and about the so-called “inflategate” scandal, in which the Patriots are suspected of using underinflated footballs.  I suspect in Buzkashi, it is when your goat gets, er, over-inflated, that things become especially exciting, given that a traditional game might have lasted several days.

I first learned of the game during my research into Mongolia, suspected to be its place of origin, when my sister asked me to help her make a pseudo-goat for the purpose of playing the game with her horse-minded recreationist friends at a Mongolian-themed equestrian event for the Society for Creative Anachronism.  The tricky bit in making a fake goat is getting it to have enough structural integrity. An underinflated goat would be very difficult to grab and ride with, so it needed to have some sort of stiffening inside to remain sufficiently rigid.  We used a complete goat, while the Afghan website above specifies a headless one.  That would eliminate a couple of useful handles and no doubt elevates the game to a more professional level.

The wikipedia article on Buzkashi includes some photos, and also a variety of film and book references, where you can learn more about it. However, if you prefer to celebrate the Year of the Goat in the Chinese fashion, you can go for the firecrackers and lion dancers, and leave the dead goat to others to enjoy.

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About E. C. Ambrose

I spend as much time in my office as I possibly can--thinking up terrible things to do to people who don't exist.
This entry was posted in essays, history, Mongolia, research and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Year of the (dead) Goat: astrology and inner Asian sports

  1. Michelle says:

    Hooray for properly inflated goats!

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