Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Lone Woman Playing a Man’s Game

Brietta Hague reports on an ancient and little known Moroccan sport - Mata - and the lone woman who has chosen to compete

Photo credit: Angels Melange

A hundred horsemen are preparing for battle. Six tribes from Northern Morocco have gathered in the village of Zniyed for a game that dates back 800 years.

Mata is a display of manhood as much as it is a game. Tribesmen, riding bareback, fight for possession of a female idol, using force if they have to. In past years, some have even used knives.

Traditionally, the rider who crosses the finish line with the idol won the hand of the most beautiful woman in his tribe.

But today the men no longer take a woman as a prize, they compete against one - Zohra Sidki - the only woman to have taken the field for Mata.

Zohra Sidki

Before the race, riders head to pay their respects at the mountain-top tomb of Moulay Abdeslam, the saint who first started Mata.

The Sufi saint is said to have brought the game home from central Asia in the 13th century.

During his travels, he witnessed “buzkashi” — an Afghan sport still popular today where riders vie to put a goat or calf corpse into a goal.

Buzkashi itself was brought across the central steppe to Persia by Mongol hordes.

The sport took hold in north Africa and mixed with local beliefs, becoming something uniquely Moroccan.

When the saint’s direct descendants, the Baraka family, revived the game, they faced a common cultural conundrum: how to honour a historic tradition steeped in patriarchal attitudes that many now find unacceptable.

See Brietta Hague's full report here: Mata Festival 


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