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The rhythmic goombay drums, the melodic horns and the kaleidoscope of colors moving to beat: this is Bahamian national pride, this is Junkanoo. As the major cultural festival of the Bahamas, Junkanoo is a wonderful celebration of life and freedom. Celebrated each year in the early hours of the morning across two parades down Bay Street in downtown Nassau. The first is on Boxing Day, December 26th, and the main event is on New Year’s Day, January 1st.

For Bahamians, it is the high point of the season when the nation's main street is transformed into a sea of sight and sound that amazes, astounds and enthralls all who experience it. Junkanoo parades are also held in most of the family islands of the Bahamas, but do not reach the scale of the parade in Nassau.

Tracing its roots to the music, dance and spectacle of West Africa, Junkanoo is one of the oldest surviving street festivals in the

For a nomadic society, history is told in monumental stories rather than monuments, and in a place of intangible history, cultural events take center stage. Every year from July 11th through the 13th, Mongolians come together to measure strength and skill during Naadam, or the Manly Games. This countrywide sports festival pits men (and women) against each other in “The Three Games of Men”: wrestling (men only), horse racing, and archery. While the prizes for competitors are grand titles such as Eye-Pleasing Nationally Famous Mighty and Invincible Giant, attendees are rewarded with a unique glimpse into the past.

The Beginning of Man

Naadam, known locally as eriin gurvan naadam or эрийн гурван наадам, dates back centuries and was a way for Mongolians to celebrate community, honor mountain gods, and perform sacrifices. The competitions’ origins are said to predate Genghis Khan and were a celebration between clans and a showcase for weddings and other important gatherings. It was the glorious leader himself, however, that reportedly presided over the first official Naadam around the 13th century. In addition to a furious celebration of sport, it was an opportunity for Khan to scout talent for his infamous and brutally effective army’s front ranks.

Today’s incarnation formally pays homage to Mongolia’s declaration of independence from China on July 11, 1921. After a long period of communist rule and ties to Russia, Mongolia held a democratic revolution in 1990 and returned to celebrating Naadam. The festival was added to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010. Though the largest celebration takes place in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar, there are smaller competitions throughout the country.

Tough Competition

The horse races, held in a tented city of yurts called Hui Doolon Khutag, about 30 kilometers from Ulaanbaatar, are arguably the most dramatic. Traditionally, this journey represents a test of strength and courage. Courses are 15 to 20 kilometers long, and jockeys range from 5 to 13 years old. They start training kids early here, as Mongolian horses are small (but also fiercely strong). In a charming tradition, jockeys sing a song called Ginko to their horses before the race for good luck. The winner is dubbed “the leader of 10,000” in a ceremonial nod to Genghis Khan’s horse happy horde. Don’t leave Hui Doolon Khutag without drinking some airag, or fermented mare’s milk, with the locals; you’ll either thank us or curse us depending on how many bowls you drink.

In the archery competition, each traditionally clad member of a 10-person team is given 4 arrows to try to strike a uuhai, or bull’s-eye, 65 to 75 meters away (that’s more than 200 feet). The arrows, made from willow branches and vulture feathers, are surprisingly accurate in the hands of a skilled archer. The bull’s-eye with the most arrows in it wins. Once again, song is ceremony, and archers sing to their arrows for a straight flight while judges sing praise for successful shots. You might also come across ankle-bone shooting, which combines archery, darts and the Mongols’ love of sheep bones.

The wrestling competition draws the biggest crowd and, perhaps, the biggest pool of competitors. Fields of either 512 or 1,024 wrestlers compete in a single elimination tournament. Matches have no time limit and end when an opponent’s back and legs lie on the ground. There is also no size classification, which leads to some epic David vs. Goliath matchups. As wrestlers progress, they are anointed with titles including nachin (falcon, 5th round), zaan (elephant, 8th round) and the grand champion arslan (lion). The traditional wrestling costume has an open front, reportedly to ensure only males compete after a disguised woman won. And it wouldn’t be Naadam without song; each wrestler has a designated zasuul to sing songs of praise after his or her victories.

In the words of Genghis Khan, “It’s not how many breaths you take, but the moments that take your breath away.” At Naadam, you’re guaranteed to be gasping for air.

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