Culture

Teresa Wiggleworth-Baker visits the London Tatar Sabantuy Festival 2014

28/06/2014

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On Sunday 8th June the third Tatar Sabantuy took place in the courtyard of the Wilkins buildings at UCL.

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A Sabantuy is a traditional summer festival which is celebrated every summer in Tatarstan, an autonomous republic situated within the political framework of the Russian Federation. Similarly, the festival is celebrated in Bashkortostan, a neighbouring republic of Tatarstan, and in other areas of the world where many Tatar Diasporas live. In London the UK Tatar Association has organised the festival for the past three years.

The festival originates from the eleventh century and its Tatar name Sabantuy can be roughly translated as ‘plough festival.’ The Sabantuy was traditionally held after the first haymaking at the beginning of summer. Now it’s regarded as a symbol of Tatarstan and represents the preservation and promotion of the Tatar language and culture; it’s a celebrated national holiday in cities as well as the Tatar countryside.  Traditional sports contests are held, such as the egg-and-spoon race, battles with sacks on a pole, racing with buckets of water, and last, but not least the Tatar wrestling contest called Kuresh. The winner of the wrestling contest would originally have won a live sheep, an extremely honourable award. These contests are an opportunity to show off strength as well as dexterity.

This year’s festival was opened by the raising of the Tatar Sabantuy flag, followed by speeches given by representatives of the Tatar diasporas from Bashkortostan, Latvia, Italy and Moscow. The speeches included one of the representatives reading a letter from the president of Tatarstan, Rustam Minnikhanov, sending his wishes to Tatars all over the world. Gifts from the representatives were presented to the UK Tatar Association and included framed pictures of Pushkin, Lermontov and Musa Jalil, a famous Tatar poet from the early twentieth century, who is now a national Tatar hero.

After the speeches, the festivities began with singing and dancing from the Tatar star trio Zu-Lia-Lia, and the Tatar singer from Latvia, Liliana Gazizova. Many members of the audience joined in the dancing and partying until the Tatar wrestling began. There were both children’s and adults heats (the prize was not a live sheep, I hasten to add!).

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After the wrestling contests were over, everyone had built up an appetite for the plov, a delicious central Asian dish made with lamb, carrots and rice, which had been bubbling away in a giant cooking pot since mid-morning. Once appetites had been replenished, the entertainment from the singers continued with numerous costume changes between sets.

A pleasant day was had by all and fortunately, the weather was splendid.

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