Obscure National and Historical Sports

By Owen R.

Have you ever wondered about other countries’ cultures and how they influence things like sports? I have wondered that and I will be exploring how obscure national and historical sports influence cultures. One may ask: what makes a sport obscure? Well, an obscure sport is a different, not as well known or played sport, when compared to other sports in American eyes. Some commonly played sports are baseball, soccer, and hockey. The obscure sports I will be analyzing today are oil wrestling, sepak takraw, and capoeira.

One obscure sport, oil wrestling, is the national sport of Turkey. This national sport consists of players coating themselves in olive oil as they engage in wrestling. The participants wear leather pants called “Kispet” which is made from buffalo leather. The sport’s most famous tournament “Kırkpınar” is held in Edrine during the summer. The winner of the tournament is called “bas pehlivan”. This sport might sound strange to us, but it is very important to the history of Turkey. The history of oil wrestling starts with two leaders from the Ottoman Dynasty named Orhan Gazi and his brother Süleiman Pasha. They were capturing forts and then they started to jokingly wrestle in oil. They agreed that the winner would get Kispet, but unfortunately they died because of wrestling. Years later after their deaths, the sport of oil wrestling became recognized as a tradition. This is important to the culture of Turkey because it represents a sign of masculinity, which was something that is praised in Turkey. Oil wrestling shows masculinity because of the struggle, strength, courge, and determination it provokes. The Kirkpinar tournament connects Turkey’s history and culture as stated by one of the top players Ahmet Taşcı, “For oil wrestlers, Kırkpınar is like a dream,” Ahmet Taşcı is explaining how Kirkpinar is a goal for many oil wrestlers. As one can conclude, the history and culture of oil wrestling are very rich.

Aside from oil wrestling being an obscure sport, sepak takraw is also known as an obscure sport. Sepak takraw is currently Malaysia’s national sport. Sepak takraw is like volleyball but players are only allowed to use their heads, chests, knees, and legs. This sport originated in Malaysia and is played with a rattan or synthetic ball. In the 1940’s it spread to Southeast Asia and its first official game was held in 1945. The term sepak in Malay is kick and takraw in Thai is the word from the woven ball. International play is governed by ISTAF (International Sepak Takraw Federation) which holds world cups and king cups championships every year. This Malaysian sport started about 500 years ago and was mostly played by the royal court. In the 16th century, the sport spread to Indonesia and people there called it Sepak Raga. An early account from the fifteenth century about this sport is how Tun Besar took Raja Muhammad’s headgear off by hitting him in the head with a rattan ball, resulting in Tun Besar being stabbed to death by Raja Muhammad. This story is a huge part of Malaysian culture because it shows how back then players wanted to earn revenge, but today players want to earn an award.

This final obscure sport is called capoeira, which is also known as Brazilian dance fighting. Capoeira isn’t the national sport of Brazil but is very important to the history of Brazil. This sport is a form of martial arts with dancing. Capoeira in the past years has spread around the world and has been in pop culture. This is practiced in a circle formation called roda, where capoeiristas perform capoeira. They also use certain instruments like the berimbau, the pandeiro, and the atabaque. The tempo of the instruments influences the speed of the roda. The members of the roda also sing. All of the music is connected to African heritage. Capoeira was created 500 years ago by enslaved Africans in Brazil. To be safe and discrete, they practiced capoeira to protect themselves, which looked like dancing to the slaveholders. After practicing for many years people used capoeira to rebel against their slaveholders. This sport is important to the culture of Brazil and the Afro-Brazilian community because it connects two different groups of people. Since it connects two different groups of people, it stops hatred and racism against a group.  Capoeira helps people from all parts of life get out of struggles. A quote capoeirista performer Nestor: “Life is a struggle? Life is a battle? The player sees that capoeira is teaching him to dance within and during this fight.” Capoeira shows how people created enjoyment while enduring pain.

These three examples of national sports are all considered obscure (in our eyes) but they have a cultural impact. Sports are a great way to learn about different cultures in the world. These sports portray the history of that region. For instance, capoeira shows the history of slavery and of Brazil, oil wrestling shows the importance masculinity in Turkey, and sepak takraw shows the history of sports in Malaysia. As one can see, sports play a key role in presenting a country’s culture.

Student Bio

Owen R.

2020 Summer Program

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