In Buzkashi Boys, an Academy Award nominee for live action short film, two boys in Kabul dream of winning fame on horseback in Afghanistan’s aggressive national sport, buzkashi, where riders compete for control of the headless body of a goat.
To learn more about this unusual sport, Pop Omnivore’s Brad Scriber talked with photographer Matthieu Paley. He has been working in central Asia for 13 years and has photographed a number of buzkashi matches, including one for the February feature article “Stranded on the Roof of the World,” about life in Afghanistan’s northeastern panhandle, the Wakhan corridor.
It’s a central Asian horse game where the riders, called chapandaz, fight one another for a headless goat (the equivalent of the ball in soccer). There are no rules as how to get their hands on the goat. It’s quite rough. Once a chapandaz gets it, he tries to break from the pack and ride full speed to a pre-determined goal: it could be a rock, a pole, a small hill, a circle drawn on the ground. The winner is the rider that managed to get to the goal most. A minimum amount of riders could be 10 or so, and it goes above 100 of riders for the big buzkashi.
I’m not exactly sure. During the last one I saw, they had to stop when one of the riders broke his hip. That was in Afghanistan’s Pamir, weeks away from the nearest hospital. We gave him pain killers and he was brought, on horse back, back to his yurt.
1) The scrum and 2) the moment a chapandaz breaks away from the pack with the goat. Usually, they do so while holding their whip in their mouth, so as to free their hands. While at full spend, they often squeeze or hold the headless goat between one of their legs and the horse.
Have you ever been injured trying to capture a buzkashi image?
No, I have been pushed around, that’s all. I have been asked countless times to leave the grounds, for my own safety, but a good picture is worth a bit of pushing, so I insisted on staying.
What are the riders like?
Tough, proud—and often bloody at the end of the game!
Yes, in a way – except in the Pamir there is no way to reach a status of “celebrity.” But you gain respect if you are a good chapandaz.
Where do spectators sit?
Usually on a hill nearby – but often the horse would come full speed toward the spectators. So you have to be ready to run for your life, even as a spectator.
A guy running around with balloons attached to his back carrying the head of a goat – a variation on pom pom girls?