Sports in Afghanistan
I have known Afghanistan as one of the most dangerous country to be in, since the war broke up. I never had a lot of information about it until one day in our class, we discussed about Afghanistan. I know however, a little about their way of living, their religion, and their peace situation. When I read the book Kite Runner, I was so interested to learn more about their life, the struggles they face as well as the sports they play. Kite flying is a famous sport that young children play in Afghanistan. It was elaborated clearly in the novel Kite Runner. The novel itself tells me that kite flying is one of the most unforgettable memories a young Afghan could have in his childhood. With this in mind, it would be good to note why kite flying is such an important event in Afghanistan and why did it came to be very famous among the people especially for children. Kite flying is also common to children around the world but the intensity of that activity in Afghanistan is different from that in our own country and perhaps in other countries too. It would be the goal of this paper to further study the mechanics of kite-flying in Afghanistan as well as the cultural metaphor of this activity in relation to the novel Kite Runner.
Like many countries in the world, Afghans also play many kinds of sports and compete in the Olympics. Sports like wrestling, basketball, soccer, archery, running, boxing and martial arts are very famous in their country. Afghanistan has a huge stadium where they hold their sports competitions. Ghazi Stadium in Kabul can hold as much as twenty-five thousand people. It was built during the leadership and reign of King Amanullah Khan (Riordan 23). Before the Talibans took over the country, the Ghazi Stadium was used for football matches. But nowadays, the stadium is used to stage execution of common people who go against the Talibans or who have done something against their laws.
One of the chapters of the novel Kite Runner tells about how two people, a man and a woman, were stoned to death for committing adultery. Everyone was watching the scene including Amir. Afghanistan history, culture and laws were clearly depicted in the novel Kite Runner. The death by stoning was done in the Ghazi Stadium in Kabul.
Aside from the famous sports that other countries also have, Afghans have their own national sport, called Buzkashi, which literally means “Goat grabbing” (Olson 14). In this game, a headless body of a goat is placed in the center of a circle and two opposing teams, riding a horse will have to get the dead goat and bring it to their scoring area. Players should be skilful enough to participate in this game as it involves a lot of injuries when there is no proper training of both the participant and the horse prior to the game. However, there was no mention of this game in the novel Kite Runner.
Kite flying as mentioned comprehensively in the novel is a very prominent game among the children of Afghanistan, especially during the winter. Before the war broke out between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union, people from all over Kabul gather together and fascinatingly watch the event, known in their language as Gudiparan bazi (Dupree 20). Kite flying was a very prominent sport in the country but many people regard it as a form of art. It was considered an art because of the painstaking effort that one needs to exert to come up with a beautifully kite that could withstand the wind and at the same time, sturdy enough not to be cut easily by the opponents (Dupree 22). Aside from winning the kite flying competition, the sizes and colors as well the unbreakable tar of the kite, is itself an honor for kite flyers.
The kite for kite flyers is both a science and an art (Emadi 11). It is vital that the kite has a balance of several important factors such as the skills and abilities of the kite flier of the gudiparan baz, the flexibility of the bamboo that serves as the framework of the kite, the durability of the string used, the strength of the paper and the glue that binds it to the framework and of course, the ability of the assistant kite flier or the charka gir to support the lead flier against the forces of the wind (Dupree 13).
As depicted in the novel, the goal of the kite flying is to cut off the string of the opponent’s kite thereby sending it down to the ground. Those boys who are not well-off, and who are not capable of buying a kite, would chase down the falling kite as fast as they can so that they can catch it and have it as their prize. In the novel, it was Hassan who served as assistant of Amir in the kite flying, who is that best kite runner among the children in Kabul.
From what is described in the novel, kite flying is really a prime sport in the country. Children would really try to capture the falling kite of the losing kite flier as this is also a symbol of honor for them. In the novel, when Hassan got the kite of the losing opponent, other children beat him just to get the kite from him. It only shows that the kite is such a prize because it means pride and popularity among the children. Winning the kite flying is another thing, as this would mean that the winner is the best flyer in the whole neighborhood.
Every winter, young male child regards Friday as the big event of kite flying which coincides with the Muslim day of prayer (Ger Gaag 19). Friday is the time when both male children and adult men gather together with their colourful kites and very long sharp strings coiled in a wooden spool. The male-dominated Afghan society is well-represented in this event. No women or children are allowed to join the kite-flying as it was believed, even in other societies, that kite-flying is a male business.
Kite flying may conjure images of a patriarchal society in which everything is dominated by men. The world of sports, traditionally, is male-dominated. Women are usually regarded as a weaker being that is why they are not allowed to participate in the world where men only fit. This is still true in Afghanistan, I believe. Women are banned from flying the kite, as it was a popular belief that kite flying is a battle of manliness. A single kite flying up means that it needs an opponent. It is a battle, a fight of who is superior among the others and not just a hobby in a cold Friday afternoon.
During the kite-flying competition, children usually climb on the top of their roof to watch the spectacular event. However, it has been noted that this sport is likely to cause a lot of injuries and even death. For one, the kite string is very sharp as it is covered with tiny powder of broker glass that served as blade. Second, spectator who just looked up in the sky watching the kites usually fall in their roofs, or lose their balance and fall down causing serious bone injuries and even death.
Sadly, during the reign of the Talibans, kite flying was banned in the country, believing that kite-flying is not an Islamic practice. The novel Kite Runner tells us not just about the sports in which I am researching about, but also more on the devastating history of Afghanistan. During the Taliban regime, those who are caught playing a kite or just even carrying a kite will be beaten up and their kite will be burned or destroyed in that instance. Kite-sellers on the other hand are sent to prison when Talibans found out about their business activities (Vogelsang 26). Banning the kite-flying activity of the people might have brought so much indignation towards the Talibans, given that kite-flying has been part of the Afghan culture for many years. People were bound to fly the kite secretly and are forced to admire it in silence.
The novel kite-runner, coupled with my research on Afghanistan sport has opened up new avenues for me to understand much better the life and the daily struggles of the Afghan people, as well as the poverty of the mind that they experienced during the Taliban regime up to the present. Kite-flying has a significant cultural metaphor in the Afghan society. It is not just a mere habit or interest but the concept of manliness, honor and prestige lies on the bottom of it.
Racial and status stratification is also very evident in the kite flying activity. Those who are well-off are able to buy a kite while those who can’t afford a kite will just have to be contented watching the event and running after the fallen kites of the losing team. As in the case of the novel, Amir, the well-off child who is actually the half-brother of Hassan is the gudiparan baz, and Hassan served as his charka gir. Hassan is also the best kite runner but because of his appearance and origins, he is not well-accepted in the Afghan society.
Aside from racial and status discrimination, gender equality is also not given a fair hearing on the activity of kite-flying and in the Afghan society in general. Women are forbidden to participate; they are just mere spectators of the big event that is very significant to an Afghan male child.
This research on Afghanistan sports particularly on kite-flying is a good way for me to learn about the techniques of the game while at the same time appreciating what other nationalities would give importance to the underlying metaphor of the game. Important factors were discussed in order to successfully engage oneself in the kite-flying arena. Though many sports are also played in Afghanistan, Kite-flying is a truly well-awaited and expected even during the time of extreme chaos and deprivation brought about by the Taliban regime.
It was also apparent that Afghan people still play the game anywhere in the world and treat the game like a battle as they do it in Afghanistan. Like the novel Kite Runner, the last part talks about how Amir would like to pay his debt of gratitude to the late Hassan by taking care of Hassan’s only son Sohrab. They were playing a kite and Amir is teaching Sohrab the tricks that his late father was very good at. This only shows that kite-flying runs in the blood of the Afghan people. Wherever they go, they reminisce the moment and the feeling of how it is to fly a kite in the Afghanistan skies.
This research on Afghan sports also exposed the events that unfolded in the history of Afghanistan. During the fall of the monarchy of the Afghanistan to the hand of the Soviets, thousands of people flew to Pakistan to seek for safety and refuge. This was also evident in the novel Kite Runner, when Amir and his father fled from Afghanistan to Pakistan to escape the death that awaits them under the Soviets.
This research enabled me to enjoy learning other people’s culture. It is crucial that we learn other people’s culture base on their own perspective instead of judging them on our own standards. I said in the beginning of this research that I know about Afghanistan as a very dangerous country to be in. But at the course of this research, It came to my mind that when we truly understand and hear that side that is in the danger of not given a fair hearing, we can have a new outlook and perception on them. Like many people around the world, Afghan people also play the same sports that we play. They enjoy it as much as we do. I witness many children fly a kite but it was through this research that I learn the underlying meaning of kite-flying in the culture of Afghanistan.
Despite the fact that kite-flying is very popular in Afghanistan, the manufacturing of the kites are not done in a huge-scale manner. Rather, kites are manufactured by traditional and local artisans in the country. But nowadays, many commercially-made kites are already available.
Finally, it would be best to conclude this research in a way that readers will realize the importance of examining the history of the country with that of the novel. One can surely find congruence between what the author of the novel is telling us and that of the actual happenings in their country. When we understand the basis of the novel, we would surely understand and appreciate the totality of the novel itself.
As Hassan always says to Amir, I would want to say that I would always be interested to study other people’s culture, practices and traditions base on their own perspectives…”a thousand times over”.
Dupree, Louise. Sports and Games in Afghanistan. USA: American Universities Field Staff,
Emadi, Hafizullah. Culture and Customs of Afghanistan. USA: Greenwood Press, 2005.
Hartman Fred and Hartman Mary, D. Window on Afghanistan: Rebuilding Health, Hope and the
Human Spirit. USA: Trafford Publishing, 2006.
Hossieni, Khaled. The Kite Runner. New York, New York: Penguin Group, Inc., 2003.
Olson, Gilia M. Afghanistan: A Question and Answer Book. Mankato, Minnesota: Capstone
Nikki Van Ger Gaag. Focus on Afghanistan. USA: Gareth Stevens Publishers, 2007.
Riordan, James. Sport, Politics and Communism. UK, England: Manchester University Press,
Vogelsang, Willem. The Afghans. UK, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, Ltd., 2002.