CAMEL WRESTLING FESTIVAL IN SELCUK, TURKEY

January 22, 2024

Camel wrestling is a traditional sport in which two male Tulu camels wrestle, usually in response to a female camel in heat being led in front of them. It is most common in the Aegean region of Turkey, but is also practiced in other parts of the Middle East and South Asia. This year marked the 42nd edition of the International Selcuk Camel Wrestling Festival, the most important tournament of its kind, held in the third week of January each year. Thousands of spectators and fans enjoyed traditional music and dance, camel meat barbecues and the ubiquitous Turkish raki. A day before, camels were paraded through the center of Selcuk in a beauty pageant, decorated with colorful beaded muzzles, fabrics, pompoms, bells and Turkish flags. However, the popularity of this sport is in decline, as the relative costs of caring for such an animal rises, as well as concern for the animals’ welfare.

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SURVA IN THE VILLAGES OF PERNIK PROVINCE, BULGARIA

January 15, 2024

Ritual masking in Bulgaria dates back to ancient times and is still very much alive today. The festival of Surva in the central and western parts of Bulgaria occupies a special place among the traditional masquerades. It is held every year on 13 and 14 January – New Year’s Day according to the Julian calendar. For the local communities, Surva is the most awaited festival of the year. The core of the celebration is a popular masquerade ritual performed in villages throughout the region. On the first night, Survakari masquerade groups, consisting of men, women and children, don specially prepared masks and costumes and make their way to the village centre, where they light fires and tease and play with the spectators. Some participants take on special roles, such as the leader, the newlyweds, the priest and the bear. Early the next morning, they gather and go around the village visiting houses where they ritually marry young couples, while the bear ‘mauls’ people for good health. Hosts await their arrival with a ritual meal and gifts. After the feast, the Survakari distribute the gifts, often donating the money they have collected to orphans and the poor.

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ANNUAL GATHERING OF SARAKATSANI IN SLIVEN, BULGARIA

August 28, 2023

Every summer, hundreds of Sarakatsani from different parts of Bulgaria and Northern Greece gather on Karandila hilltop near Sliven in Bulgaria’s Northern Thrace. Sarakatsani, also known as Karakachans are nomadic people native to the Balkans, inhabiting chiefly Greece, while a smaller portion of their population lives in Bulgaria. Most scholars agree that Sarakatsani, native to the Balkans, have ancient origins. According to some, they are Hellenized Thracians, Illyrians and Moesians while another theory is that they originate from Turkic nomadic tribes like Pechenegs and Kumans. However, linguists classify the Sarakatsani dialect as a northern dialect of Modern Greek. They accepted Orthodox Christianity, although Sarakatsani culture includes certain pagan beliefs, rites and customs. Until the mid-20th century, Sarakatsani finally adopted a sedentary way of life and settled in permanent places of residence. Due to the assimilation it is hard to estimate their current population, but it is believed that there are around 15,000 in Bulgaria, while more than 100,000 live in Greece.

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PAKISTANI TRUCK ART

April 06, 2023

Decorated vehicles are present in the daily lives of the people of Pakistan to an extent that is unparalleled not only in South Asia, but in the world. The ubiquitous decorated trucks, buses and other vehicles have become an integral part of the landscape, not only in the cities but in virtually every corner of this vast country stretching from the Indian Ocean to the Himalayas. The customization of vehicles is an elaborate process involving many different artisans, from welders, blacksmiths and mechanics to painters and calligraphers who decorate the vehicles. The motifs found on these vehicles include various types of ornaments, depictions of idealized landscapes, animals, modern machines, celebrities, patriotic images and inscriptions with romantic or humorous poetry. Decorations also include talismanic symbols and objects designed to protect the driver by warding off evil forces. Today, Pakistani truck art is a thriving form of vernacular folk art as well as a serious business that provides a livelihood for hundreds of thousands of artisans and their families.

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GUN WORKSHOPS OF DARRA ADAM KHEL, PAKISTAN

April 10, 2023

Darra Adam Khel is a Pashtun town in Kohat District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. It has gained fame and notoriety for its bazaars packed with gunsmiths and arms dealers. Within the two-kilometer stretch of the Darra Adam Khel market, about 140km west of the capital Islamabad, there are dozens of arms factories producing everything from crude copies of Chinese pistols to sophisticated facsimiles of the US M16 automatic rifle or the Austrian Glock semi-automatic pistol. However, the AK-74 Kalashnikov semi-automatic assault rifle – an upgrade of the venerable AK-47 – is the market’s best-seller at a mere 130$. For those on a budget, a basic pistol will set you back as little as 60$. Darra’s market has survived for decades, thriving in a legal grey area that places it outside Pakistani law as part of the country’s former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Weapons made here fueled both the first Afghan war against Soviet forces and, since 2007, the Pakistani Taliban’s fight against the Pakistani state.

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PARSIS OF KARACHI

March 27, 2023

The Parsi community of Karachi has made a remarkable impact on the metropolis, although the size of the always-small Parsi community in Karachi is in decline. There are now less than 1,700, down from more than 7,000 a few decades ago, mostly in Karachi. The Parsi community is largely defined by its adherence to the Zoroastrian religion – the religion of ancient Persia. They are sometimes called “fire worshippers” because of the central role that fire plays in their rituals. Each of their temples has a consecrated fire that burns continuously – some of these fires have been kept alive for centuries. In a community centre in Karachi, priests gather around a small fire and recite a prayer in an ancient dialect of Persian. The priests wear masks that cover their mouths and noses so that the fire is not desecrated by their breath or saliva. According to tradition, a group of Zoroastrians arrived in South Asia over a thousand years ago, fleeing the Muslim conquest of Persia. This community was prosperous in the past, especially as traders.

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CHANNAN PIR MELA

March 18, 2023

Channan Pir is a village in the Cholistan desert in the Punjab province of Pakistan. It is named after the Sufi saint Jalaluddin Surkh-Posh Bukhari and contains his grave. The Mela, which bears his name, is celebrated in the Cholistan desert on seven consecutive Thursdays beginning in February each year. The fifth Thursday is the most popular day and is also observed as a local holiday. Today, it is the most popular festival in southern Punjab, with Hindus and Muslims participating as one in theatrical performances, magic shows, dancing, horse and camel rides and feasts. The legend of Channan Pir is that he was born to the Raja of Jaisalmer and when it was predicted that he would become a Muslim, the Raja threw him into the desert. The child survived and became a Muslim as predicted. He then converted the Hindu herdsmen to Islam.

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BRICK KILN INDUSTRY IN PAKISTAN

March 11, 2023

Pakistan is home to one of the largest brick kiln industries in the world, with more than 18,000 brick kilns in operation across the country. These kilns are responsible for producing an estimated 60 billion bricks a year, which are used to build and construct homes. The workers in the brick kilns are one of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in Pakistan. Most are unskilled laborers with little or no access to basic services such as health care, education and sanitation, and work in harsh and dangerous conditions. They work long hours, often up to 12 hours a day, and are paid very low wages, as little as US$3 a day. Many of them live on the site in temporary shelters that do not have adequate ventilation and are prone to fire and accidents. The use of child labour in the brick kiln industry is a major problem in Pakistan. According to a study by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), an estimated 4.2 million children are involved in child labour in Pakistan, many of them in the brick kiln industry. Coal is a primary source of fuel for brick kilns in Pakistan, but due to its high cost, kiln operators often turn to cheaper alternatives such as waste plastic, rubber, leather and medical waste. Unfortunately, the use of these materials produces a range of harmful pollutants. These include sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic, chromium, lead and cadmium. These pollutants have adverse effects on human health and contribute to air pollution. They also contribute to long-term problems such as global warming and climate change.

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SURVA FOLK FEAST IN THE VILLAGES OF PERNIK REGION, BULGARIA

January 16, 2023

The Surva folk feast in Pernik region takes place each year on 13 and 14 January, marking the New Year according to the Julian calendar. In the evening of the first day, masquerade groups called Survakari head towards the village centre where they light fires, tease and play with the watching audience. Early the next morning, these groups consisting of men, women and children walk throughout the village visiting houses, in order to bring good luck and health, while the hosts await their arrival with meal and gifts. This custom is related to other traditions intended to scare away the evil spirits that are found throughout the Balkans, and that are known as Kukeri in Bulgaria.

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