Without help from the sports and culture department, keeping an over a century-old traditional game alive can be quite a challenge.
Native to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) region, mukha is a traditional game similar to archery but instead of shooting arrows with pointed tips, the players shoot long wooden rods tipped with a small metal plate to hit a target around 35 feet away. Some argue it is a more affable version of archery but with much larger bows.
Even though it has died out in the major parts of K-P, the game is played with fervour in Buner, Swabi and Mardan districts. To promote the dying sport, residents of Buner have organised a month-long tournament in the district’s renowned Jowar Bazaar. The event is titled “Peace Mukha Tournament 2012”.
“We have kept [the sport] alive as it is part of our culture and tradition,” said Abdul Wahid, one of the organisers of the tournament.
“Every year we invite teams from the three districts in spring to take part in the tournament, which is livened up by a large crowd of cheering spectators and team supporters, dancers and music performers,” he added.
The game was originally played by Pakhtuns, more specifically by the Yousafzai tribe, who played it on the beat of drums, explained Wahid. “We strive to keep the original style of the game intact and play it the way it was over a century ago,” he said.
With drumbeats in the background, 10 out of 12 players per team try to aim for the target, which is round and small and stuck in mud, 12 feet high and 35 feet away from the shooter. Each successful hit secures one point for the team and is accompanied by whistles and hoots from the team’s supporters, he said.
“It hasn’t been easy keeping the century-old game alive without the government’s help, but we will continue for as long as we can,” he added.
As with any other game, mukha requires constant practice to master, said Sher Ali, a player and organiser of the tournament.
“Though we play it as a sport, for our forefathers it was a matter of life or death in the battlefield, because they had to kill to survive,” he added.
Islam Noor, a player from Mardan, said the game is quite expensive for the common man, explaining that a single bow, which is made using a stag horn, costs around Rs30,000. An alternative to purchasing the horn is to search tirelessly for one in the hilly areas, the other is to use a bow made from bamboo, he added.
Once the games begin, the air is filled with roars from the crowd and the beat of the drums; “It is quite a spectacular scene,” said Wali Dad, who is the president of the Mukha Association in Buner.
“Music is indispensable to the game, as it keeps the players and the spectators engaged throughout,” he added. Dad has been organising the game along with his friends in Buner since 1988.
For locals, it is not just a sports tournament but an event where they mingle with their friends and relatives from other districts.
A local beverage vendor, Izhar Ahmed, said he earns twice the amount of money during the tournaments.
Though the organisers in Buner feel their efforts are sufficient to keep the game going, locals have demanded the sports and culture department to promote the dying sport by organising mukha tournaments on a national level.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 26th, 2012.