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Graduation, Mini-Naadam

June 14, 2011

I’ve got some old photos to share that I finally managed to organize on my computer. School officially ended on June 1st, but the graduation ceremony took place on a Sunday morning about two weeks before. The following photos are from the ceremony outside in front of the school.

That afternoon, the town also had a small horse race and traditional Mongolian wrestling in the school’s gymnasium. As far as I could tell, it was just a warm-up act to the larger Naadam festival in July, celebrating the three manly sports: archery, horse racing, and wrestling. My friend and I went to the wrestling event together, which was good because as a former wrestler he could interpret some of the different rules and ceremonial aspects of the sport.

Before the bouts start, an announcer introduces each competitor, telling us where they’re from and giving us a short summary of their career. The first round is almost circus-like, as members of the audience (mostly youngsters) are invited to challenge the wrestlers. What ensues are absurd matches between 250+ pound professional wrestlers and skinny 9-year-olds mostly made up of elbows and knees. It’s fun and good-natured, and the crowd certainly enjoys it, even if the youngsters getting tossed around might enjoy it less so. Later rounds proceed elimination style until we’re left with two wrestlers in a final round.

The idea is to get your opponent to the floor. As soon as anyone kneels or falls, the match is over and the winner moves on. One of the more interesting aspects of the sport is the salutes performed by the wrestlers to their fellow competitors, to the crowd, and to the Mongolian flag. Wrestlers walk in a slow, bouncy step, flapping their arms gently like a bird. They are always careful to face each direction before finishing the salute–interesting to see such grace demonstrated in a sport so dependent on brute strength.

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