Last Sunday my Turkish digital photography companion and I went to watch one of the largest camel wrestling festivals in the area, at Yahsi-Ortakent. The New Year heralds the start of the camel-wrestling season in south west Turkey and this was the first festival of the season. Proud owners truck their charges around the country like so many beauty queens attending pageants, eager for fame and fortune.
Some of the contestants
Camels are bred for wrestling and they are very expensive so there is a much at stake. One owner we talked to had six camels. Camels come from afar as Izmir, Aydin, Denizli and Antalya. There must have been about a hundred camels participating in this festival.
The bright sunny weather had brought the spectators out in their droves, in spite of the TL10 (about 5 euros) entrance fee which for Turkey is very expensive. They came with their whole families, complete with picinic tables, chairs, barbecue grills and copious supplies of raki, the national aniseed-flavoured drink.
Two men clink raki glasses to the successful outcome of a match
Souvenir stalls were on hand to sell supporters headscarves embroidered with the names and pictures of the contestants
and you could purchase camel sausages by the string (these are very good grilled!) or mandarin oranges by the kilo.
Orange seemed to be the colour of the day. The terraces on the hillside were packed with families and the noise was deafening, notably added to by the “musicians” playing discordant sounding pipes and beating drums.
To get the festival going a female camel on heat is paraded around the arena so that her pheromenes will inflame the males and encourage them to wrestle. The object of the exercise is for one camel to wrestle the other down to its knees and for the defeated camel to lay its head on the sand.
Kobra defeats Kaneffe
Easier said than done and teams of camel handlers, looking much like tug-o-war teams, are on hand to separate the camels if need be. There are usually at least two sets of camels wrestling in the arena at any one time. Much (illegal) betting on the outcome takes place among the predominantly male audience.The camels have brightly coloured and highly decorated saddle cloths bearing their name and town of origin. This is “Izmir’s son” and part of the decoration of his saddle cloth is made of cowrie shells
When not wrestling the camels are picketed in lines away from the main wrestling area and there they wait, seemingly patient, until it is their turn to be led into the arena. A young boy waits for the return of a camel from the arena
a proud winner
getting to know you
up close and personal
I’ll just have a scratch while I’m waiting
I love this juxtaposition of the old versus the new
a driver tries to put a nose-bag on his relcitrant charge
Altogether it was a fascinating afternoon, giving a glimpse of a tradition that must be quite ancient.