Wednesday, December 22, 2004

A Brief History of Tetherball

We have previously offered a primer on tetherball, considered its virtues, and, I trust, resolved its "issues". To round out an elementary re-education on this subject, we next attempt a brief history of tetherball.

Strange to say, we could find no concise -- much less comprehensive -- treatment of this noble sport. Fortunately, we have seen a renewed interest in exploring vital, though often ignored, subjects -- such as this recent historical sketch of the clothespin. One is tempted to ask -- why have they left us hanging for so long? Well, aided by the extensive research of our alert contributor Blue Clinkers, we mean to take down the laundry.

Early History - Uncertain Beginnings

Because of the scant sources now available, historians still disagree on the origins of tetherball.

Some hold that its roots might be found in the gruesome practice of the Tatars in about the 9th century, whereby they would string up the detached head of one of their unfortunate foes to a rough-hewn pole and beat it about for sport. The pole thus employed came to be know as the Barbar Pole, after the barbaric practitioners whose job it was to supply the head.

Over the centuries, these cut-throats refined their practice -- continuing to shear and spill some blood, but with far less drastic results (except in so-called "beauty parlors"); thus, the modern-day barber pole. (In fact, the transformation was been so complete, that the former bloodthirsts began warbling in close-harmony when not clipping heads.)


Note: This lively Tatar sport, no doubt, inspired the goat's head polo, with which the Afghanis are enthralled. Moreover, not to be outdone or to waste a thing, the neighoring Tajiks often engage in intramural goat carcass matches. Indeed, the name "polo" might be traced to an early Western traveler of these remote regions, Marco Polo, whose name, in turn, is derivative of "pole" (though, Marco was Italian).
Other scholars believe that tetherball evolved from early maypole rituals -- whereby an entire village might turn about a large pole, grasping tethers and dancing. Coming at the onset of warmth and fruitfulness in Northern Europe, the maypole was strongly associated with pagan rites of fertility. (Curiously, we could find no study of fertility and tetherball; but, we hypothesize that the offspring of tetherballers would, largely, be vigorous and well-rounded.)

Without a consensus on origins, we can nonetheless conclude that tetherball springs from either death or love or both -- which explains the poetic fascination with the sport.

***

Well... despite our best efforts, the body of tetherball literature has proven too large and rich to digest in one sitting. So, we must take in it in pieces. More anon.

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