Rwandan high jumping

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A form of jumping over a horizontal bar, practised by Rwandan males in Africa, and documented by European travellers and imperialists through the first third of the 20th century. John Bale (Imagined Olympians: Body Culture and Colonial Representation in Rwanda, 2002) has explored the activity in the context of postcolonialism, in a project of what he calls ‘imaginative sports geography’, in which ‘the colonial textual creation of sports out of regionally specific body cultures’ is as much the focus of study as is the precise nature of the practice itself. Rwandan high jumping was several things at once: manly training, including in the context of warrior education; courtly performance or celebration; a focus for popular amusement and recreational gatherings in the community; a source, for the jumpers themselves, of communal fame; and, possibly, an element in wider ritual. But what it was not was a type of formal, documented achievement sport: it remained a ‘folk-like activity that never became sportized’, as Bale puts it; and one that excited the European imagination through the elastic and arresting physical feats of the Rwandans. The study of such a sporting practice or dimension of a body culture is a reminder of the specificity of Western conceptions of the sporting body, and close study of the visual and written representations of the jumper, in deconstructing photographic and written texts as Bale does, demonstrates the specificity of some body cultures at the time of the ascendancy of dominant models of modern sport. See also high jumping.

Subjects: Sport and Leisure.

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