‘The three manly games’: Mongolia’s premier sports festival comes to Wimbledon for London Naadam 2016

While many enjoyed the mid-Sunday tennis last week, Wimbledon also played host to another cultural tradition — the premier Mongolian festival of Naadam.

More than 500 people gathered from all corners of the globe – from the UK Mongol community, to British and international guests, to the Buryats from Russia, and Inner Mongolians and Tibetans from China — on Wimbledon Common on July 5.

Ambassador His Excellency Tulga Narku opened the London Naadam 2016 ceremony alongside the entire Mongolian Embassy staff and the Mongolian Association in the UK.

Naadam traditionally celebrates Mongolia’s three national sports – wrestling, archery and horse riding – known locally as ‘the three games of men’.

Much has changed over the years and women now participate in the archery and girls in the horse racing.

Mongolian Naadam 5BULLSEYE: Archery can now be enjoyed by everyone

Festivalgoers are treated to a blaze of colour from traditional Mongolian dress to khuushuur – Mongolian deep fried pies.

During Naadam, Mongolians drink airag, fermented mare’s milk, which is best served hot.

The event also included a music concert, featuring traditional Mongolian instruments and a Mongolian pop band, a kids running race and a traditional clothing competition where people wore the brightly coloured traditional Mongolian clothing called deel.

Cultural Envoy of Mongolia Unurmaa Janchiv said: “We really love colours, especially blue and green – green signifies the environment, blue signifies the sky.

“These are very popular colours in Mongolia.”

London Naadam 2016 featured traditional wrestling, archery and knucklebone shooting.

Mongolian Naadam 3BRIGHT: The beautiful outfits lit up the festival 

The wrestling was won by, now-nine times current London Naadam wrestling champion, Oyun-Erdene Yanjmaa, who is ranked County Lion in Mongolia, which is top of the middle league, with the leagues ranging from village to county to national.

In Mongolian legend, a woman disguised as a man and won the wrestling event, using binding to hide her breasts. Therefore, wrestlers now play bare-chested to prevent a repeat of the legend.

Head of the Mongolian Association in the UK Bataa Tserenbat, 47, explained how he won his village wrestling tournament, or Village Naadam, in Mongolia, and came runner-up a further three times but had no desire to compete at county level.

For the archery, the Mongol bow is a recurved (double curved) composite bow, made of horn, wood and sinew, renowned for its military effectiveness.

Mongolian Naadam 4DRAW: The archery got quite competitive 

It was used to great effect by Genghis Khan, founder and emperor of the 13-14th century Mongol Empire, which became the world’s largest continuous land empire, stretching from Eastern Europe including Hungary to the Sea of Japan.

Tsolmon Tuul, 36, who practiced archery at a sports club from the age of seven in the Mongolian capital Ulanbataar, said: “Archery has many beneficial healing properties.

“If you practice from an early age you will have good eyes, a good back and your will be more patient.

“You will be able to see things from far away which others might not see.

“These are advantageous, especially in the Mongolian nomadic life on the plain.

“You will be able to see danger coming, such as wolves, it allows you to take care of your sheep, and allowed you to be an effective watchman in war.”

Archery proved to be very popular on the day.

Mongolian Naadam 1FRIENDLY: People from around the globe united at the festival 

London Naadam 2016 archery co-organiser Enkhtuvshin Henderson said: “30 children and 40 adults took part in the archery, many of whom had little previous experience, so we gave them short lessons.

“This was a good thing because it helped spread the knowledge of archery.”

Aside from Mongolians, people from far and wide took part in the archery, including English, Scottish, Lithuanian, Inner Mongolian, Buryats and other competitors.

Notably, a young English student Luke Green came third, taking home a well-deserved bronze medal.

A more unheard of sport at the festival was knucklebone shooting.

Knucklebone shooting started using the knucklebone of the abundance of cattle and sheep in Mongolia, and the bone is fired with the middle finger.

Now, instead, pieces of stag horns are used when they fall out naturally in the autumn.

The very root of it is cut off and cleaned to form the knucklebone which is then is placed on a hard piece of wood.

They shoot the knucklebone at the target, which is composed of 16 or 20 bones on a wooden frame at a distance of almost 5m. The aim is to shoot every bone off the frame.

Mrs Janchiv said: “Mongolians said that this was the best Naadam ever.

“Everyone wore their national costumes and were full of joy for being reunited for the annual Naadam, and expressed their gratitude.

“We are grateful to Wimbledon and Putney Commons for enabling us to hold our Naadam at this beautiful park.”

The summer festival was enjoyed by all.

Mongolian Naadam 2SMILES ALL ROUND: The festival was enjoyed by people of all ages

Mr Tuul said: “I am proud to call myself a Mongolian. We have this history, bloodlines, we know where we are from.

“We are keeping the traditions. These competitions are about remembering who we are, where we are from.

“It is not just a competition. It is a celebration of the bloodline of one of the great nations.

“Without man or without our bloodline there wouldn’t be us.”

Images courtesy of Azkhuu Tsamba, with thanks

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