Bullock-cart racing in Myanmar is a traditional sport that goes back centuries. Over time the sport has declined in popularity and it’s rare to see in the country now.
But the bullock-carts are still a big part of rural life – they are used for farming and transport.
And processions of bullock-cart caravans are the main feature in annual pagoda festivals throughout Myanmar.
One village in central Myanmar that is keeping the dying sport of bullock-cart racing alive.
In the fields surrounding Thar-ze township in rural Mandalay a procession of caravans pulled by oxen make their way to Ywa Gyi village. Every year families in the area drive their oxen and come together to celebrate the local pagoda festival.
The Shwe Yin Maw festival is a week-long event held in the summer.
The festival is celebrated on the full moon day of Da Bound – which is the 12th month of Myanmar’s lunar calendar. Residents from neighboring villages travel by bullock-cart in groups. Many families set up camp near the pagoda during the festival.
The good spots in the shade get taken quickly.
“My family came here a few days earlier to get a good shady place, for us and also our oxen. All of my family members come together and they will stay here for six days,” says this woman.
The festival is a chance to catch up with old friends and lovers, to enjoy food, trade and have fun. But the main event is the bull cart race.
“I am from Nyaung Bin Thar village. We will go home in the evening of the full moon day.”
Others have come from further afield to take part in the races.
“We bought our cart all the way from Kyaukse in Mandalay.”
Throngs of people line the race course in anticipation for the races.
In this village, bull-cart racing is a tradition attached to the festival that goes back many years.
There are various kinds of contests throughout the festival but the highlights are the cart race – and the beauty contest.
“The carts races are held for three or four days prior the Pagoda Festival. We have divided into three groups depend on the ages of animals -- young, medium and adult,” explains U Kyi Hlaing, judge of the competition. “The 'beauty contest' scores on the manner-- how the oxen draw the card properly, how harmonious the four legs are on the run.”
In the beauty contest one man races his young ox down the track and pass the red flags.
Judges score points for how well the ox runs.
“We have four judges at four points along the running way. They score on all manners -- the beauty, the balance and the harmony. So the faster is not always the winner. To win in the game, the wisdom of drivers is also the key. The owner should know the manner and character of his own animals and how to treat them wisely in the game.”
Next up is the event that everyone has been waiting for.
“The cart race – it’s all about the speed, the fastest is the winner.”
It’s fast and exciting…and participants sometimes take a month before the race to practice and train their animal.
The owners are proud to show their strong oxen off so they decorate the carts with coloured ribbons.
“This is our tradition, our culture and we are trying our cultural beauty alive as ever.”
Though it’s in decline elsewhere in the country, in Ywa Gyi village, the bull-cart races are thriving.
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