850x0x BEAT THE DRUMS
- Apr 1 8:42 AMx0x BEAT THE DRUMS
By ALI GUMUS*
The former Ottoman capital of Edirne is hosting a wrestling festival
between 29 June and 1 July. The Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Tournament, which
has been held annually for over 630 years, begins with a prayer for the
wrestlers recited by the cazgir, or tournament announcer, who then shouts
out, 'In God's name! If you fall below give up, if you get on top hang
on!' to the rhythmic music of drums and zurnas, the contestants are roused
to exert themselves to the utmost. The historic atmosphere pervading this
event adds to the audiencred enjoyment.
Following the prayer, the wrestlers come out onto the field and perform
the warming up movements known as pesrev which resemble the way an eagle
flaps its wings when about to swoop onto its prey. They then make the
traditional gesture of greeting, which involves rapping their right hand
on the ground and touching it to their breast and forehead.
This conveys the following message to their rival, 'You are such a great
wrestler that I am unworthy to be a part of the earth you walk upon.'
In Ottoman times this three-day tournament was held every year in the
village of Kirkpinar near Edirne. Today this village is part of Greece and
called Samona, so the Kirkpinar Wrestling Tournament is held at Sarayici
in Edirne instead. As in the past, wrestlers from all over Turkey prepare
for this tournament throughout the previous year.
Restaurants, tea houses and side shows turn the field into a colourful and
animated fair ground.
The wrestlers wear breeches known as kispet made of cow or goat leather,
and oil their bodies with olive oil before each bout. The tournament is
opened by the aga (master), who is the person who bids the largest sum for
the tournament ram. Over the three days the wrestling field is never empty
for a moment.
The wrestlers are divided into ten categories depending on their previous
experience and track record in competition. These categories are known as
tesvik, deste kucuk boy, deste orta boy, deste buyuk boy, orta kucuk boy,
kucuk orta, buyuk boy, buyuk orta, bas alti and bas gures. The contests in
the highest bas gures category are held on the last day, and the two
wrestlers who get through to the final wrestle for the Gold Belt. This
final match can sometimes last for several hours. Those wrestlers who win
the title at Kirkpinar three years in a row are presented with a belt made
from 1450 g of gold by Edirne Municipality. For the losers there is one
consolation, the chance to try again at next year's tournament.
* Ali Gumus is chairman of the Wrestling Committee of the Federation of
World Sports Writers