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Kupkari – the courage and sternness of the ancient tournament

Uzbekistan is a wonderful country with thousands of years old culture, interesting traditions and original folklore. Since ancient times Uzbek people have been having an unusual tournament of real men – kupkari or ulok (goat fighting) on great feasts and events.

The Kupkari is unbelievably spectacular performance which can take your breath away, and can shock even the most sensitive players. It may be compared to Spanish Enseñera and American bull-rodeo. Thousands of players on horseback, in a cloud of dust, with excitement and fearlessness fight for the carcass of a young goat or a ram.

The first mention of the contest was found in Chinese notes of a traveler to the state of Davan (now the territory of Fergana Valley) in the 7th century B.C., during the Zoroastrian era. Since ancient times, man has needed a spectacle, spectacular and stirring. Millennia later the kupkari has not lost its popularity and prestige. In the past the winner was rewarded with livestock, carpets or horses. Nowadays, the prizes are modern household items, machinery and even vehicles.

Not everyone can take part in the games, but a well-trained rider on a physically developed and disciplined horse. The champions of the games are nimble, hardy, with athletic anger. And not every horse is suitable for such competitions. As a rule, elite horses of the Karabair breed participate. These horses need special care and attention. They are trained to hold the body correctly, fight off opponents and develop good speed. It is inadmissible that the horse is cold in winter or tormented by heat, it must have a balanced diet at certain times.  Before the kupkari begins, the maslakhat council meets to decide the organizational issues, what the prizes will be and where the competition will be held. As a rule, the game takes place in the countryside on a wide plain surrounded by hills. This is done so that spectators can sit on high ground and follow the course of the game. The ram or goat is also prepared: all the insides are removed, leaving the liver and heart, then the limbs are cut off down to the knee. The weight of the carcass must not exceed 50 kilograms, and if it is less than the established weight, salt or earth is added to the carcass.

The contestants wear special quilted chapanes and protective headgear. Before the game begins, the announcer announces the prize and places the carcass of a ram or a goat (ulok) in the center of the circumscribed circle, and then the fun begins. All participants on horses rush to the carcass to have time to pick it up. Only the friskiest, most daring and quick-witted manages to sneak through the crowd and manage to grab the carcass. Then, at speed, the “miner” hurries to the line to deliver his trophy. At this time dozens of players are trying to take away his cherished carcass. All the rules of the tournament are observed, and a fair victory is above all.

The winner is solemnly awarded with the prizes and now everybody in the district knows about him and he is respected and honored in the mahalla. Kupkari tournament is one more reason to get acquainted with the rich culture, ethno-sport, which has its roots in the deep antiquity of the Uzbek people.