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TURKISH OIL WRESTLING

November 3rd, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

While everyone in the U.S. was celebrating Halloween on October 31st, we spent the afternoon enjoying a Turkish tradition dating back to 1065 B.C. when Persians first introduced oil wrestling to this part of the world. 

Turkish oil wrestling has little in common with the Olympic sport of wrestling.  First, it is dripping (quite literally) in tradition. 

The atmosphere in the small Turkish village that hosted this event was carnival like.  Crowds of people, many in traditional attire, walked along the road that lead to the grassy field where the tournament took place.  Our van arrived in the village just behind a band that was comprised mostly of drums and cymbals played by men in Ottoman attire.  As they marched down the street, the townspeople and visitors (us included) marched along behind to the rhythmic beat.  The air was electric with excitement.

An Ottoman band led the way to the festivities

An Ottoman band led the way to the festivities

Ottoman Band led the way to the festivities

. . .and added both music and color to the day.

The matches took place in a grassy field that had been roped off and was surrounded by several flatbed trucks, brought in by locals for a premium viewing platform and white plastic chairs for other spectators.  The “officials”, including politicians had premium, covered seating on the far side of the field. 

 

Officials and VIP's gathered under the Turkish flag

Officials and VIP's gathered under the Turkish flag in a formal reviewing stand. . .

while hundreds of spectators, like Kent & tour host, Gwen, sat on plastic chairs around the periphery of the field.

while hundreds of spectators, like Kent & tour host, Gwen, sat on plastic chairs around the periphery of the field.

Hundreds of people waited anxiously for the games to begin, as the wrestlers sat in the grass waiting for their matches after being doused with olive oil.

The olive oil is poured on waiting wrestlers from large urns, and reapplied as needed.

The olive oil is poured on waiting wrestlers from large urns, and reapplied as needed.

Oiled and waiting

Oiled and waiting

The wrestlers are all dressed in identical leather trousers that are tightly bound at the waist (important for reasons that will be apparent) and stretch to just below the knee.  Large urns of olive oil are liberally dumped over the bodies of the wrestlers as they prepare for their matches, leaving the pants dripping with oil and their bodies glistening in the sun.

Because of the thick coating of olive oil on their bodies, holding onto your opponent is tricky business.  Unlike conventional wrestling where grabbing an opponent’s clothing is forbidden—here the leather pants become the means to the end.  The strategy, as we determined after watching several matches, is to slide your hand into the opponent’s pants and use the pants to leverage him into submission.  I am told that there is a rope inside the pants that they grab onto, but you can’t prove it by me.  When an arm is up to the elbow in the pants, it doesn’t take much imagination to grasp the situation. 

Gotcha!

Gotcha!

I know there is a rope here somewhere!

I know there is a rope here somewhere!

Having said that, this is a challenging sport, and the men who compete are strong and well-muscled.  Preliminary to each match the competitors march in opposite directions across a field swinging their arms.  They stand side-by-side in the center of the field with arms linked and then kneel briefly in front of the reviewing stand.  Returning to the center of the field, they pass each other with a brief hand on the backside before getting down to the business of wrestling.

First walk the walk. . .

First walk the walk. . .

then arm in arm to show respect. . .

then arm in arm to show respect. . .

then the passing tap. . .

then the passing tap. . .

 

and finally they're down to the business of wrestling!

and finally they're down to the business of wrestling!

During the day there were times that more than one match was taking place on the field at the same time, each with its own referee.  The referees would stop the matches to allow wrestlers to wipe the oil out of their eyes or reposition them on the field when their movement was toward the crowd.

Stand off or Hand off?

Stand off or Hand off?

Time out. . .can't see

Time out. . .can't see

Watching the crowd was as much fun as watching the wrestlers.  Groups of Turkish men would set up tables covered with food and glasses of Raki (a traditional Turkish drink, like Greek Ouzo).  When I took the following picture, they joked that I owed them 5 lira, but settled for me taking a swig of Raki with them.

That'll be 5 TL

That'll be 5 TL

This was very much a family occasion, with many babies and small children.   

Babies. . .

Babies. . .

women and children enjoy the fall festival atmosphere.

women and children enjoy the fall festival atmosphere.

In fact, Jolie accompanied us and attracted children like a magnet—they couldn’t get enough of petting her.

Everybody loves Jolie. . .

Everybody loves Jolie. . .

and wanted a picture taken with her.

and wanted a picture taken with her.

There was a large media turnout for this event, and Kent and I were even interviewed by a local TV station.  Although wrestling was the main attraction it reminded us of a harvest festival in New England–steeped in tradition and enjoyed by all ages.

The media gets up close and personal on the field

The media gets up close and personal on the field

All in all, it was a lovely fall day.

And then it was over. . .until next year.

And then it was over. . .until next year.

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  1. Mimi Michaud
    November 5th, 2010 at 16:50 | #1

    Gerry and I had dinner with Anne & Dudley the other night and learned about your website. Amazing!! I just read about the Oil Wrestling and will now start reading back to your earlier adventures! – Mimi

  2. Tara Devi
    November 9th, 2010 at 12:12 | #2

    Hi Carol & Kent, I have just read through your recent experiences – great pictures and great reading! You are certainly enjoying yourself! We also had 2 days of torrential rains in/around Kilada at the end of Oct – but they enabled us to detect (+ seal) the leaks around our front windows BEFORE the winter rains. TD is back on the hard, and we are trying to find our land-legs again! Love, Renate & Werner

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