So this past weekend was the first of 2 eagle festivals out here in western mongolia. the festivals are a yearly chance to showcase traditional kazakh culture and sport, which means that everyone comes clad in their kazakh best (re: an astonishing number of animals needed to die in order to dress the crowd in attendance) for events ranging from mock bride-stealing races to goat carcass tug-o-war on horseback. quite the show, as you could imagine.
my PCV friends Nick, Caitlin, Brian and I were lucky enough to score a ride to the festival from my dear friend and artisan Inaa and her husband Kaderbek. so we headed out in Kaderbek’s russian jeep loaded down with enough beer/ vodka to drown a small village and equally ample apetites for a kazakh cultural experience.
from right to left: brian, caitlin, me and nick
here are some pics from the day:
the first event up was something akin to playing fetch with eagles… though in this case the eagle was taken to the top of a nearby cliff as the eagle’s owner called to it from the valley below and waved a stuffed fox decoy. each hunter was judged by how quickly and accurately the eagles came.. though a few of them were particularly ornery and required a friendly shove off the cliff to get them started.. and preferred to take an ariel tour of the festival grounds (always being sure to swoop dangerously close to groups of small children, making the crowd gasp and scatter) before landing a km or so away and having to be retrieved on horseback by their sheepish owners.
This guy, however:
had quite the rapport with his bird who came right to his arm with little to no coaxing. he, of course, was the undisputed winner.
the second event was the mock bride-stealing ‘race’… i received differing explanations for the origins/ rules of this game, but basically a couple would ride off into the steppe then “race” back to the grounds with the girl whipping both the horse AND the boy (the predominant recipient of the assault usually being the boy) while the boy would attempt to slow his horse down to be even with hers. if the man’s horse won the race, then he ‘lost’ the girl, and if the horses were together at the finish, the girl had to give the boy a kiss. this practice either had origins in Kazakh bride-stealing (on a interesting but less humorous sidenote: here is a stark but fascinating documentary on contemporary bride-kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan) or a Kazakh courtship ritual where, in an attempt to ‘talk’ in privacy (which is complicated in ger lifestyle), a boy would take a girl on a long, slow horseback ride into the steppe. when they were done ‘talking,’ they would race back- the girl whipping the boy/ his horse (softly if she liked him, hard if she didn’t)… though this particular event was further confused because most of the couples seemed already married, and the whipping across the board was quite intense!
The last event of the day was a tug-o-war type game on horseback- but using a decapitated goat carcass in lieu of a rope. the competitions got pretty heated, often breaking out of the designated game area and continuing up (and sometimes over) nearby mountains, or directly into the crowd of spectators, triggering wild stampedes of old Austrians with fancy cameras in either direction.
another great part of the festival was the amount of awesome kazakh textiles/ fur that came out of the woodwork to be sold. by the end of the day even most of the old Austrians were donning authentic fox hats.
Inaa also brought her wares and sold out of the necklaces that we had designed together:
here are some of my favorite textiles of the day:
the post-festival festivities continued with an impromptu debauched dance party (of 6) in Inaa’s kitchen where we consumed a somewhat disturbing quantity of beer/ vodka / cassis (the latter of which they insisted qualified as a ‘wine’ and therefore must be drank straight up) in combination with freshly boiled beef tongue / stomach…
needlesstosay i did not make it to the second day of festivities.
ah well, on to the next festival this weekend!