A guest post by Sharon Rott
Camel wrestling is a unique and popular Turkish sport. Each year in the early spring months, camel wrestling events (deve güreşi) are held every Sunday in cities and villages throughout Turkey’s Aegean coastal region. Turkey—western Turkey in particular—is known for its camel wrestling. The sport has been practiced among Turkish people for centuries, despite the ironic fact that camels are not native to Turkey.
This spring when I heard of a camel wrestling meet to be held in the nearby city of Biga, I rounded up a few friends and we headed out to watch. When we arrived at the event grounds, I made a couple of quick observations. Firstly, in my opinion, the camels were interesting, fascinating, huge, ugly, slobbery, smelly, aggressive creatures. They were certainly a sight to behold. Secondly, the vast majority of people in attendance were men. There were very few women present, and as a foreign woman, I initially felt a little out of place. Neither the camels nor the crowd dampened our fun, however. My friends and I enjoyed ourselves immensely as we interacted with enthusiastic locals and dodged irritated camels.
The camel wrestling meet felt a little like a rodeo, except that the camels were led right through the audience to get into the arena. The camels had been worked up by their handlers and they were agitated and foaming at the mouth, ready to fight and ready to spit. At the start of each match, organizers brought several similarly sized males at a time into the arena. As the males aggressively pranced around a conspicuously placed female camel, two males would inevitably face off in competition to earn the exclusive affection of the female. Wrestling ensued with the male camels entangling their necks and pushing their heads against each other. Each camel tried to bring the other camel down to the ground. A camel won the match if his competitor fell to the ground or retreated from the fight.
The wrestling itself was pretty amazing to watch. But what made the event even more interesting was the atmosphere. The mood was festive, and hundreds and thousands of years of rich cultural traditions were on display. I felt like I had been transported to a completely different time period with all the camels, drums, flutes, dancing, folk clothing, and traditional foods. As my day at the wrestling meet drew on, I came to realize that Turkish camel wrestling is more than a popular sporting event, it’s a cultural experience.