August 18, 2010

Naadam #1 - Wrestling

It's normally hard for me to get enthusiastic about watching the sport of wrestling, whether it's the Japanese sumo or the Olympic style. But what I saw in the far west aimag (province) of Hovd (also spelled Khovd), so very far from the increasing crowds of tourists attending the Naadam Festival in Ulaanbaatar, had me fully enthralled.

Naadam, which means game or competition, has been celebrated in one form or another for many centuries, and since 1921 it formally commemorates Mongolia's declaration of independence from China. As I introduced in an earlier post, the festival encompasses the traditional "three manly games" of archery, horse racing and wrestling. I'll do a little series of posts on this festival and today I briefly cover wrestling.

Mongolian wrestling (bökh) is considered the most illustrious of the games and wrestlers enjoy high status among Mongols. This is now the only athletic event that still excludes girls and women.

During tournaments, the wrestlers wear small shoulder vests (zodog), red or blue tight-fitting briefs (shuudag) and ornate traditional boots (gutal). Each wrestler has his own "encourager" (zasuul) - in my photos you'll see them mostly in purple robes.

Before these outdoor games begin (top photo), and even before each match (left 2nd row), the wrestlers perform a ritual dance together; this dance may differ in the various provinces. In the matches, there are no weight categories - I saw small men wrestling very large ones - and no time limits; the game is over when one contestant touches the ground with anything but his hands or feet.

 Hovd, Mongolia, 2007

It's worth it to enlarge the image to see some of the precious facial expressions. Right click on the photo to open it in a new tab, then click again for the full size.

Here is my favorite capture of this event; although not perfectly in focus, it so well portrays the pain of losing this all-important match.

In the coming weeks, I will also cover the Naadam sports of archery and horse racing. If this topic interests you, let me know whether you like the photo-montage presentation or you'd rather see the individual photos.

Today's post joins memes Outdoor Wednesday and Wordful Wednesday. Go visit these sites to find links to many more bloggers playing these fun memes.


tapirgal said...

Wow, you have captured the exotic (to us) quality of this event perfectly. I would also be enthralled, and I normally have no interest in wrestling. Those unique boots are not the least of it! That's quite a montage you put together.

Ms. Bake-it said...

I am not a fan of wrestling (at least that of which we have here in the U.S.), but this is fascinating. Great mosaic. The last shot with the little girl looking at the wrestler is precious.

~ Tracy

EG Wow said...

OK, I admit I am not a fan of wrestling...but I do appreciate your post. :) I like a combination of mosaic and single photos. In a mosaic I can see a lot at once in order to get an overview. The individual photos fill in the details.

Luna Miranda said...

i love the last photo--poignant. the men in my family are wrestling fanatics, while i find it violent. this is an interesting glimpse of this old culture, and the venue being on the outside, makes it more festive than hostile. great collage.

Ebie said...

I am not a wrestling fan but your photos captured a fun and festive sport. Love the last photo, with the cute little girl.

eileeninmd said...

Wow, what an experience. Wonderful photos and mosaic. I just love that last shot.

T. Becque said...

Really interesting. I'm not such a fan of it either, but to see it in another culture is just so interesting. And I love the photo of the little girl peering at the man!

VP said...

They look much more serious than the falsely picturesque wrestler on TV.
I don't like wrestling, but this one more natural could be interesting.

JM said...

This is fantastic, Francisca!

Marina Capano said...

Fantastic! great pics!

Kaori said...

These photos are fantastic! I've seen on TV the traditional dance they do before the tournament. We actually have many mongolian sumo wrestlers here in Japan and they are all very strong!

Hilda said...

I'm not a fan of wrestling, but this is still so interesting. Fantastic photos too, Francisca! Love the wrestlers' boots! :)

Evelyn said...

Very interesting. They are so colourful, even at sporting events.

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