Once, long ago, lived a man in Kyrgyzstan called Kojomkul. He is said to have been seven-and-a-half feet tall and weighed over 350 pounds. A wrestler, he gained his fame by competing in tournaments, often donating his winnings of sheep and horses to the poor of his village. In one terrific feat of strength, he carried a horse 100 yards, celebrating the story of At-Bashi, the Horse’s Head.
The story goes like this: A man, having sold his cattle, began returning to the North on horseback. Exhausted after crossing the Tien Shan mountians, he stopped at jailoo, a summertime pasture, to rest and turned his horse free to graze under the stars. The man woke as the sun rose over the mountains, but the horse refused to return to him. He chased it down from the pasture, finally catching it in a valley. The horse stubbornly refused to let the man ride, so he hoisted the animal upon his shoulders to walk to a sheltered place for the night. Tired and hungry from the chase, the man killed his unfaithful horse and roasted the meat over a great fire. He ate heartily, then packed for his long journey North. At the edge of his camp, he left the horse’s head, calling the place At-Bashi – literally in Kyrgyz, horse head. The rest of the horse he carried on his back, eating every night until there was only enough meat scraps to boil for soup. This dish is called naryn, a boiled bone soup with finely cut meat, and where he left the bare carcass of his disloyal horse became the city of Naryn.
While the man and his disloyal horse may or may not have been true, Kojomkul was a real man who lived in Kyrgyzstan until his death in 1955. He was a chairman of his collective farm, competed in wrestling tournaments throughout Kyrgyzstan, and during the Second World War, he and his wife were responsible for saving his village from starvation. He is the spirit of Kyrgyzstan’s favorite sport – Greco-Roman wrestling, for which it won a silver and bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics.
Outside of Bishkek’s National Sports Palace and the home of the Kyrgyz Olympic Committee is Kojomkul’s statue, a literal monument to the strength of Kyrgyzstan and one of my favorite places in Bishkek.
This story was told to me by a Kyrgyz friend, but was first introduced by another volunteer, Dan, who teaches English in At-Bashi. Dan, as far as I know, cannot carry a horse any number of yards, but only – I am sure – because he hasn’t tried it.