Unrestrained aggression on Easter Sunday? It’s lelo!

Father Saba had thrown up the 16-kg lelo ball and the struggle began; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Zuri Qiqava, 50 years old, is in the midst of the pushing and shoving at the beginning of lelo; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Robizon Kobalava, almost 50, is helped up. Lelo only has one rule--whenever someone falls to the ground (a common occurrence), players raise a hand high, and the game slows. Lelo doesn't stop, but some players help the fallen warriors; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

People in the immediate vicinity of the lelo ball feel the most force, while people at the edges of the scrum try to push the entire mass of hundreds of players toward "their" creek; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

During the contest, shirts are torn, bodies cut and bruised, and shoes fly through the air. Players step away to take a break, and then they continue pushing the mass in "their" direction; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

I began photographing lelo from the roof of the bus stop, but I soon climbed down and joined the melee. My goal was to get close enough to photograph all of the action and all of the players’ contorted faces, but not to actually join the game. This goal was impossible because the mass of players was constantly moving forward or backward, left or right. Everyone in the vicinity got shoved into the rugby-type scrum. After all, lelo has no rules, no referees, no time-outs, and no limit of players. No one cares if a photographer or bystander gets crushed, or if a garden gets trampled, or if 300 strong men suddenly enter someone’s home uninvited; ALL THAT MATTTERS is getting the 16-kilogram lelo ball and moving it towards “your” goal line. Two creeks about 150 meters apart represent the goal lines.


About keithrkenney
Keith Kenney is a professor of visual communication at the University of South Carolina. He is living in Tbilisi, Georgia, for a year. This blog is about several topics. "CSJMM-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management in Tbilisi, Georgia. "USC-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SJMC) at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. CSJMM and SJMC are recipients of a "Journalism School Partnership" program grant from the US Department of State. The purpose of this $750,000 grant is to improve CSJMM and ensure its sustainability. "Tbilisi, Georgia" is about Susanna Melo and my experiences in Tbilisi. "Columbia, SC" will be about our experiences in our home town--Columbia--when we return home. "Georgia" is about Susanna and my experiences when we travel in Georgia outside of Tbilisi. "United States" is about our experiences traveling in the US. "Films and Photography" is about two documentary films I'm working on in Georgia. One story follows how Adishi handles the rapid tourism that is being developed in Svaneti. The other story follows Tamaz Jalagania, who is a craftsman of swords and guns, an opera singer, and an extraordinary storyteller. "Scholarship" is about my current books, articles, reviews, and grants.

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