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In his book “Buzkashi”, Whitney Azoy, a former officer at US embassy in Afghanistan, responds to how the traditional game of Buzkashi demonstrates the life of Afghans. The author tries to take an active part in the daily lives of Afghans to know more about the role of Buzkashi and its corresponding results to the lives of Afghans. Previously, when he was working as an officer, a friend suggested him to get familiar to Buzkashi as an approach to know the Afghans.
The game of Buzkashi in Afghanistan dates back to the time when the Turkic-Mongol people from North and east played it as part of their tradition. This game used to hold a special popularity in the north of the country because the north people were skilled horse riders. However, nowadays, different ethnic groups such as Uzbek, Hazara, Kirghiz, Kazakhs, Tajiks and Pashtuns play it.
The author points out three main dimensions to this game; Buzkashi as a commemoration, Buzkashi as a metaphor, Buzkashi as an arena for political process. Buzkashi as commemoration refers to how this game preserves the cultural heritage and the traditional burden of Afghan lifestyle along with its honor and masculinity. It’s more than just a simple entertaining game. The word Buzkashi is also used metaphorically to refer to a chaotic situation where everyone is following his self-interest and ignores others. The usage of the word is so prevalent in most northern and eastern provinces of Afghanistan because the game has a special popularity in these provinces.Based on the nature of the game which is all about power, agility and stamina, this game is used as a tool by some people who try to gain a fame among people and get respect. Although some participants may play Buzkashi for fun, for others, it means much more beyond the fun it carries. For people who try to gain political power through this game, Buzkashi is a game of political survival.
There are two different ways to play Buzkashi; one being called tudabarai, the simple and informal one, which is almost an individual game with no institutionalized total score at the end of game, and the other being called qarajai, a more complex form, which is formal with a team identification and an institutionalized total score at the end of the game.However, these two types of Buzkashi share the very same components such as horses, riders and carcass. What’s more, there are four orders to this game; the first order is the rivalry over gaining access to the calf carcass which then leads to a dispute of the second-order of the game where there is a competition to control over the dispute.
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The author then, makes note about the ceremonial Buzkashi game where a tooi wala holds a Buzkashi game because he is facing a rite of passage. Three steps come along, namely; preparation, festivities, and aftermath. The organizer is the tooi wala who sets the game before or after the ceremony. The preparation includes decision making over material resources and invitation procedures. The invitees are mostly the khans from other villages who, then, bring with them gifts – also known as shenak-to tooi wala and these gifts determine the prize in Buzkashi. The game starts and everything is arranged. The calf carcass is slaughtered based on the principles of Islam and the hooves are cut as to avoid any harm and injury to chapandazans. Whoever Chapandaz wins the game will gain both a prize along with an amount of money from his khan and a reputation among all villages. After the ceremony, some may leave, while others may stay.
Since the game of Buzkashi is more than just a simple entertaining game, therefore, the tension and disputes may raise as a result of practicing power in the arena. The more united the people, the more peaceful the game would be because people would, then, have a sense of unity and respect to each other and will try to avoid fight as much as possible. In Afghanistan, the idea of unity is so much related to the ethnic nationality or ‘qaum’ as Azoy notes down. If the participant in Buzkashi are all from the same ethnic group or qaum, then the tension and disputes would be less.
The game of Buzkashi has extended its meaning to a broader sense of political tension among robust nations who have a political stake over the strategic resources of fragile states. For example, if we look back at the history of Afghanistan or Iran, we clearly see that the strategic location of these two countries have endangered them and metaphorically engaged them in a Buzkashi game where these two countries’ strategic resources have been the calf carcass and the nations competing over these resources are the chapandazans.