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WATCH: Variations of ‘Il-Gostra’ Around the World

WATCH: Variations of ‘Il-Gostra’ Around the World

One of Malta’s oldest sports, il-Ġostra, consists of contestants trying to climb a greased pole to retrieve a flag before falling into the water below. This customary competition is a part of many small feasts around the island, but the biggest and maybe the best known is the one that takes places in St. Julian’s. Interestingly, this sport is practiced in a myriad of different countries, enticing spectators with their distinctive culture through the ‘greasy pole’. The activity varies according to the country, from remaining on, climbing up, crossing, or otherwise moving through such a pole. OhMyMalta will highlight all these practices that are similar yet still differ from Malta’s yearly tradition.

1. United Kingdom

In the UK, competitions to climb greasy poles were conducted at several fairs, including the Crab Fair in Egremont, Cumbria, where the competition still takes place every year along with the Gurning World Championships. Due to the hefty insurance cover expenses in the event that a contestant fell from the pole, the greased pole was removed as an event at the Egremont Crab Fair in 2004. On the Isle of Wight, the yearly Seaview Regatta offers a small variation. Similar to ‘il-Gostra’, competitors walk down a horizontal greased pole that is above the water; the person who makes it the farthest before falling in wins. A horizontal pole above water is also built at Blakeney, North Norfolk, every year during the Blakeney regatta.

2. Indonesia

In Indonesia, a well-liked game called Panjat Pinang is played to commemorate Independence Day. On August 17, the nation’s independence day, communities all around the nation arrange the Panjat Pinang. Both adults and children from the community participate. Sporting goods, refrigerators, and other valuable gifts are placed on top of the pole by organisers using an Areca tree limb. The pole would be greased usually using oil and participants would climb the pole in groups. The game has been played since Dutch colonial rule in the 1700s.

3. Latin America

La cucaña, also known as Palo ensebado, is a game in which players must repeatedly use their arms and legs to climb up a vertical or horizontal pole that is about 5 meters long. The pole is often polished or covered in some sort of slick substance. The mayos, which are adorned poles set vertically for celebrations throughout the month of May, serve as cucaña. The name is intimately associated with the legendary nation of Cucaña. Variations exist in Latin America such as in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Colombia.

4. Canada

First-year engineering students must climb to the top of a greased pole and remove a tam that is nailed to the pole’s top as part of Queen’s Engineering Frosh Week with assistance from the upper-year engineering students. The Queen’s Grease Pole is a metal football goalpost that Queen engineering students stole from Varsity Stadium at the University of Toronto in 1955. The pole was covered with axle grease from the time it was first climbed in 1956 until 1988, and the pit wasn’t included in the event until some time between 1957 and 1967

5. Netherlands

A similar greasy pole game is carried out in the Netherlands, called ‘Sprietlopen’. It consists of participants attempting to pass from one end to the other. The pole would be slathered with grease and fat to make the activity even more difficult than it needs to be!