While the more civic minded residents of Bishkek went to Ala-Too Square to obverse patriotic festivities during the morning of Independence Day, myself and other local sports enthusiasts gathered at the Hippodrome to see the lively Central Asian sport of көкбөрү [kökbörü] (translated as “blue wolf” in Kyrgyz, but known in English as buzkashi).
The premise of the sport is rather simple, and closely resembles polo. However, there are no mallets and instead of using a ball, a headless goat is swiftly delivered into goals on either side of the field.
Players use all their energy to wrestle the goat from the other team and swiftly gallop towards their goal. While the game is short on strategy, it relies heavily on skilled horsemanship. The reason why this is such a popular sport goes back to the pre-Soviet history of the Kyrgyz people. Before becoming Soviet citizens, most Kyrgyzs were nomadic herders who moved with the seasons to better grazing pastures. Kökbörü was one of several summer games that showcased the chops of the lifelong horseback riders. Today, in addition to being an swift adrenalin boost, watching the games gives people the opportunity to take pride in their cultural history.
While it may initially seem unusual for people not from Central Asia, is it really much more strange than rugby? American football? Curling? Long live the world of variety in sport!