Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

May the Best Village Win

Local boys wrestle to defend their village’s honour in an age-old tradition.
Wrestling has always been a tradition in Afghanistan, a way for villages to pit their strength against each other.

Mohammad Hashem Nurani has been to a match, and brought us this story:

I’m standing in a wrestling ring in the village of Mokhtar north of Lashkar Gah. There is a circle drawn on the ground, with soft sand inside to keep the contestants from getting hurt.

Twenty-one-year old Abdul Satar from Mokhtar is wrestling with Mahbubullah, 22, from Shandak in the Nahare Saradj district, each man representing his village. Fired up by the fans clapping around them, they grasp the turbans that they’re wearing as belts.

Abdul Satar stands and speaks into the microphone, dusty, barefoot, hatless and breathing heavily. He speaks softly and looks happy.

He has won many times, but lost a lot of matches as well. He retains a particularly bad memory of one he lost in the Nawa district.

“The village chose me for the match but the other man was stronger. When we started, I went down and he jumped on me. I lost, and I went into to a coma and only awoke after a few days,” he says.

Mahbubullah lost to Abdul Satar today, but says he isn’t upset. He is afraid what his fellow-villagers will say, though, as they’ve warned him he mustn’t lose.

“This was a wrestling match between Mokhtar and Nahare Saradj district. We’ve won some, we’ve lost some. If we lose, the village elders will be very sad and ask us why we lost,” he says.

Each wrestler is chosen by the elders. First they select ten ment, and then pick one of them. If a wrestler loses a match and wants to compete again, he is given more training. If he doesn’t want to fight again, he is replaced.

Wrestling is a traditional sport in Afghanistan, especially in Pashtun areas. There are three types of wrestling – “shoulder-to-shoulder”, popular in western Afghanistan, including Herat; “chaponi” wrestling in the north, and free-style wrestling as practised in the south and east. No one knows exactly when wrestling began in Afghanistan. But old people say it has been going on a long time, at least since their grandfather’s day.

One of the older men, 60-year-old Haji Mabuud, who comes from Khost, says, “We inherited this tradition from our fathers and grandfathers. They would hold wrestling matches at milahs [traditional fairs], weddings and Muslim festivals, and people would really enjoy them.”

In the past, provincial dignitaries would attend the wrestling matches, and more senior government officials were fond of them and would encourage contestants. But nowadays it seems that the senior government people are unaware of these matches, which live on because local people are keen on them and hold them.

Mohammad Hashem Nurani, for IWPR in Helmand.

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