The Game of Gostra – Running Up a Greasy Wooden Pole in Malta

Every year, on the afternoon of the last Sunday in August, brave young men from all over Malta compete in the traditional game of “gostra”, trying to run all the way to the top of a long greasy pole and snatch one of the three prizes.

Dating back to the Middle Ages, the game of gostra was practiced all through the festive summer months, in various locations around the islands of Malta and Gozo. A wooden pole measuring about 10 meters long was mounted on a coal barge and towed to harbor towns and seaside villages around the Maltese coast, where it was smeared with grease and animal fat. Brave local men would try to run up the pole and reach one of the symbolic flags at the top in order to claim a prize. Today, the traditional game is only held in the towns of Msida and Spinola Bay, in honor of St. Joseph and St. Julian. The pole stretches out into the water, and only half of it is covered in grease, but in order to have a higher chance of reaching the flags before slipping off the slippery wood, most competitors prefer to run up the pole, hoping they can maintain their balance long enough to snatch one of the coveted prizes. This sometimes causes them to fall awkwardly hitting the log on their way down into the sea, and injure themselves.

Gostra-game

Photo: Peter Grima

Each of the three flags on a gostra pole has a religious meaning –  the blue and white flag of the Madonna, the yellow and white Vatican standard and the Belgian tricolor representing the ancestral homeland of St. Julian – and they are all associated with a special prize for whoever manages to reach them.

Gostra-game2

Photo: Peter Grima

 

 

Sources: Gululu, All Malta


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