Monday, February 22, 2010

Jousting break (Oz variety)

I'm tired of rewriting and revising -- let's have a jousting break!

Thanks to all concerned in making the video. It's great!

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Friday, January 01, 2010

More Buzkashi for the New Year

The Big Picture provides us with this great pic of the classic Afghan game, here being played near Kabul on December 9, 2009. Think William Marshal's 12th century melee tournaments.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Watching the chapandaz

The chapandaz are the players of buzkashi, or according to this Big Picture photo feature, "Only the best players, [who] get close to the carcass in the competition." This rider is watching the action -- will he dive into the melee?

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Something fun from Afghanistan

Truthfully, there is very little cheerful news out of Afghanistan, and I fear that if Obama goes ahead with the war there, it will ruin the American economy and destroy the American Constitution. More on that later.

However, I am a fan of the medieval tournament, and Afghans like some other Central Asians preserve a sport that must be a lot like the old melee combats of medieval Europe: buzkashi or (outside Afghanistan) kok-boru. Any good article about buzkashi will catch my attention and probably find its way into this blog.

When I was staying at an American hotel last week, I got a free copy of USA Today every weekday morning, and to my astonishment I found that it is better than it used to be, by a lot. The editors no longer seem to be completely allergic to substantial journalism. One of the more solid articles was this piece on buzkashi. A website called Newser ran an excerpt and added some new pictures.

Here's a taste of the USA Today piece:

Is the world ready for a sport played with a headless goat carcass?

Haji Abdul Rashid thinks it is and has big plans: corporate sponsors, television rights and beyond.

"We want it to become an Olympic sport," says Rashid, who heads the Buzkashi Federation.

To understand how ambitious — even crazy — this is, consider the game. Buzkashi, which means "goat grabbing," is a violent sport with virtually no rules. Players, called chapandaz, gallop at breakneck speed over a dusty field, fighting over a dead animal without a head.

Buzkashi is undergoing a renaissance in Afghanistan since the Taliban regime was ousted from power by U.S. forces in 2001. There are more games, players and spectators than ever before. Rashid says he has already contacted some Olympic officials.

Once dominated by powerful warlords or tribal leaders, buzkashi is attracting a new generation of businessmen who are using the game to meet contacts and get clients, explains Said Maqsud, who owns a Kabul-based security company that employs more than 1,000 people.

"That is a new concept," Maqsud says. "Now businessmen like me can be involved."

Rashid knows the game needs to be standardized to export the sport, played principally in Afghanistan and some Central Asian countries. Previous efforts to impose consistent rules have gone nowhere.

The game has no rounds or time limits. Galloping horses regularly spill off the field, sending terrified spectators running for safety. Some games are played with 12-man teams; others are scored individually with hundreds of horses careening around the field.

"It's very violent," says Maqsud, who also has seven buzkashi horses. "Animal rights activists wouldn't like it."

A spokesman for the International Olympic Committee, Mark Adams, said he was not aware of any overtures from buzkashi officials. He said there might be concerns that the sport is not widely known and has no governing body that regulates it.

"I'm not sure it's a universal sport," Adams said.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Chunkey --- another elite sport, from pre-conquest North America

Included in my scholarly interests is the history of chivalric sports, which has made me sensitive to the influence that other elite sports and festivals have had. So I was really interested to read about the sport of "chunkey" as practiced by the Cahokia culture of North America during what we call the Middle Ages. Here are some excerpts from the on-line version of Archaeology.

The chief standing at the summit of the black, packed-earth pyramid raises his arms. In the grand plaza below, a deafening shout erupts from 1,000 gathered souls. Then the crowd divides in two, and both groups run across the plaza, shrieking wildly. Hundreds of spears fly through the air toward a small rolling stone disk. Throngs of cheering spectators gather along the sidelines and root for the two teams as they play chunkey, a game that had a significant role in organizing social and political life at Cahokia, the great prehistoric city that arose around A.D. 1050 near present-day St. Louis, Missouri.


Many, possibly most, Midwestern, Southern, and Plains Indians were in one way or another entangled in a history that began at Cahokia. The evidence is often indirect, but it is compelling, and points toward a singular history-changing moment 1,000 years ago, when social life, political organization, religion, art, and culture were all utterly transformed in the middle of the Mississippi River Valley. At the epicenter of events was a radical new kind of social and political experiment: a planned capital city. Someone--or some governing body--designed one from scratch at Cahokia. The leaders superimposed a new plan directly over an old village and supervised the construction of great earthen pyramids, open plazas, and huge wooden buildings. Then they gained control over people living throughout the region, an unprecedented move in the history of ancient America north of Mexico.

A new culture developed at the city, perhaps inspired by Mesoamerican models. The people of Cahokia practiced human sacrifice, incorporated obelisk-like timber posts into their worship, told stories of superhuman men and women, used Mesoamerican-style flint daggers, and understood the cosmos in ways similar to Mesoamerican notions. They then spread this new way of life, which included intensified maize agriculture, across the Midwest and into the South and Plains with a religious fervor. Archaeologists refer to the culture as Mississippian, after the river that flows by many of its known sites.

One of the primary vehicles for the growth of this new civilization may have been Cahokian envoys who carried chunkey stones in one hand and war clubs in the other as they ventured into the hinterlands with the purpose of making peace or political alliances. These emissaries seem to have established and enforced a region-wide peace of sorts, a veritable Pax Cahokiana, an important element of which may have been the game of chunkey.

Timothy R. Pauketat is a professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

I have been to the Cahokia site, and not only are there some surviving Cahokian "ziggurats" made of earth, but a great modern museum.

Image: Chunkey player.

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Don't underestimate those little guys

Phil Paine has added to his ongoing reading list. I found this review particularly interesting:

Antoine de la Sale,[Petit] Jehan de Saintré [c. 1455]

This fourteenth century French prose work is an odd item. It's a "roman" — prose fiction. But it's nothing like the fantastic fantasies that dominated the era. No quests, no dragons, no trips to the moon. Instead, it's a realistic narrative focusing on tournaments and deeds of arms. In the first few chapters, the central character arrives at court as a page, at the age of thirteen. A Great Lady immediately begins a campaign of seduction, twisting and tormenting the lad until he surrenders his innocence. This is coyly, but still pretty blatantly recounted by the author. But the romance is meant to be edifying as well as titillating... she is given to quoting Greek philosophers while making love, and recommends a long list of books for him to read between carving the King's roasts, learning to fight, and providing her with stud service. Few teenagers have to face this kind of stress, today.

By sixteen, he becomes a star of the jousting circuit, albeit embarrassingly short and skinny for the role. This is continuously rubbed in, as contender after contender is fooled into under-estimating him. There's not a lot of plot, and not much character development. There's endless detailed description of clothing, meals, gifts exchanged between nobles, and, most of all, the pageantry of the tournament. Jousts are described blow-by-blow:

A la ije course le seigneur de Loisselench [a visiting Polish knight] actainct Saintré a la buffe tellement que a bien peu ne l'endormist, et Saintré l'ataint au front de son heaume et perça son buef d'argent tellement que au passer que les cahevaulz firent le sien tourna ce devant darriere, et a ceste course Saintré un peu se reposa.
A la iije course le seigneur de Loisselench, tout ainsin que Saintré l'avoit actaint, il actaint Saintré et lui emporta sur la pointe de sa lance son chappellet de byevre tout ainsin garny comme it estoit, et Saintré l'actaint ou hault de son grant gardebras qu'il lui faulsa avec son double et rompist les tresses, et le gardebras a terre vola, et alors recommença le cry et le bruit des gens et des trompectes tellement que a peine les pouoit on faire cesser.

Eventually, "little Jehan" goes off to war, joining the Crusade in Prussia, where he fights vast armies of "saracens" — the geography and anthropology are somewhat vague.

The riff on Jehan's small size reminded me of this French account by the Monk of St. Denis of the famous joust at St. Inglevert:

While a truce endured and there was hope of peace between the French and the English, Englishmen of the highest nobility were able to cross France freely for the sake of curiosity. There were always debates between the two groups concerning prowess and success in arms, and they argued about which of the two should be given more honor. The English were accustomed to keep silent about domestic calamities and to extoll their victories unendingly; which extremely displeased the French, who attributed that habit to presumption.

As a result those prominent knights and spirited youths, Reginald de Roye, Jean called le Maingre, alias Boucicaut, and the lord of Saimpy, aflame with zeal and vigor, resolved to settle the matter through an unprecedented deed of arms, which is worthy of being recorded. So that they might restore the worthy renown of the French chivalry and gain everlasting glory for the kingdom, they bound themselves by oath that they should measure their strength against any foreign men at arms; and they begged the king with the strongest entreaties and obtained permission with great difficulty, since in the judgment of all prudent men, they were attempting a task beyond their strength, since Saimpy was puny and thin, Boucicaut of the same stature but with better built limbs, and Reginald, likewise of medium size and superior to the others only in nimbleness. Thus the prudent advised the comrades that they should come to their senses and give up the project. They refused to do so, responding over and over that "Nature doesn't deny constant spirits to the small of stature." After gaining the king's support they had the deed of arms proclaimed to all lords and ladies in neighboring countries and especially in England by heralds accompanied by trumpeters. Without doubt this gave offense to the ears of many critics and incited envious statements: "Now, without doubt, the French are showing their pridefulness."

Of course, the three Frenchmen cleaned up.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Froissart lives!

Will McLean says:
Eric Jager's The Last Duel (New York, 2004) is written in the spirit of Froissart. And I don't mean it in a good way. I mean that just like Froissart, Jager likes to present a vivid and compelling narrative full of convincing detail, and he doesn't mind making stuff up to do it.

And then Will goes on, correctly, to critique Jager's account of "the big fight scene" as a modern, uninformed fantasy.

Now I thought the book was OK in general, but I think that representatives of the (major) publisher had a lot of input into its shape. Note the long list of such reps at the head of the book. It's a simple enough story that I don't think it needed so much massaging by people with no particular historical expertise.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Historical re-creation, up close and personal

From a recent joust in Ontario. Click the pic for an even closer impression.

Thanks to Kyle Andrews.

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Monday, March 02, 2009

This is what it was like

A hot moment in Kyrgyzstan's Kok-boru Presidential Cup.

I don't know what the rules of Kok-boru are, but if you like me have read the History of William Marshal, or even read about it, you just know that this is what the 12th-century tournaments recorded in that source were like.

From the Big Picture. And speaking of big pictures, click on the one above.

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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Resources for medieval deeds of arms

I have a great interest in jousts, tournaments and other deeds of arms, and so does Will McLean at A Commonplace Book. Recently he's had two posts of interests pointing to late medieval rules for such things, one showing the way to a recent scholarly article on 15th century German tournament rules, the other listing and excerpting some treatises on judicial duels.


Image: jousting in the time of Emperor Maximillian.

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Mesterinde Karen Larsdatter's site

The Society for Creative Anachronism gets a lot of flak from scholars, some of it quite justified (ask an SCA member!), but in its ranks are a fair number of people who have spent 10, 20 or 30 years researching their particular interest from a re-enactor's or recreator's point of view, and these people sometimes know things no one else does.

Nowadays it's easier for such people to do research and make available the results. One of those people is Mesterinde Karen, who has put together structurally simple but very valuable pages showing representations of medieval objects. Will McLean spotted the ones showing tournament galleries and the barriers or fences that marked off listfields, and alerted me through his blog. But seems to have much more. And it's searchable.

Image: Lancelot and Gawain as imagined in the early 15th century.

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