Category Archives: Gobi Gred

Savvy Saturday 14

This is the third of a three-part series of Savvy Saturday articles where I discuss attending a cultural event here in Lincoln, NE as if it took place in a fantasy world. To see my thoughts on the preparations and background of the “Gobi Gred” ceremony, check out part 1. To see my evaluation of the setting and participants of the ceremony, check out part 2.

Sitting in the student section of the Gobi Gred ceremony, I quickly found myself caught up in the energy and excitement of the crowd. While the most important action took place on the ritual battlefield below, where the cornhusker warriors battled their people’s ancient foes, the attendees were also kept busy with making the traditional verbal and nonverbal responses that accompanied the parts of the ceremony enacted before them.

Some of these responses appeared to be universally expected, as they were carried out by the majority of the 90,000 scarlet-clad attendees seated around me. Others appeared to be special duties assigned to those who sat in the student section. As a participant-observer, I took care to note both types, which shall be described in the following paragraphs.

At the beginning of the Gobi Gred ceremony, the musicians for the ’husker warriors play the official anthem of the nation in which the people of the land of the Good Life live. As is custom, those in attendance rise and sing along. However, the last phrase of the song – “the home of the brave” – is instead sung as “the home of the ’HUSKERS!” This cooptation of the tribal identity for the national identity, and the implied definition that it is the ’huskers who are the brave, set the proud, aggressive tone for the ceremony to come.

After the singing of the national anthem, the band of ’husker warriors is introduced. This introduction is accompanied by musical and visual aids featured on large screens set several strategic places around the sacred oval where the ceremony is held. These screens show in real-time, as if by magic, what is happening on the battlefield below. Throughout the ceremony, the screens are also used to display instructions to the attendees, to replay important moments from the ceremony for those who missed them, and to draw attention to what is happening in other places in the sacred oval. In this case, the screens allow each ’husker warrior to introduce himself – and give the attendees a chance to show their appreciation for the individuals who will represent them in the battle to come. This appreciation is shown by cheering, which echoes through the entire sacred oval in a roar of sound that drowns out whatever words are spoken by the warriors on the screens.

After the band of ’husker warriors – both offense and then the feared blackshirts – have been introduced, the screens show the warriors themselves. They are shown running through a long tunnel through which they will emerge onto the ritual battlefield; as they exit, each warrior jumps up to touch a sign bearing a good luck charm with the hopes it will lead them to victory. By the time they can be seen with the naked eye on the field below, the entire crowd of attenders is on their feet, cheering the warriors’ arrival.

Soon, someone begins the ritual call of the Gobi Gred, which will resound and echo throughout the sacred oval near-continuously until the ceremony’s end. “Gooooooobiiiiiiiiigreeeeeeeeed!” someone shouts, long and loud, and the response comes from everyone within hearing distance: “GOBI GRED!” This call and response pattern is repeated for a total of three exclamations.

The warriors quickly assemble on the field, ready to begin their ritual battle. In response, all those in the student section rise and remove one shoe. (From this moment on, all those with seats in the student section typically stand on their seats for the entire ceremony. For those in front, this offers a better view of the game. For those behind, standing on their seats is the only option to see over the heads of those in front of them.)


At this point, students then wave their shoe forward and back, encouraging the warriors to kick the ball well and far. At the same time, an invigorating rhythmic tune begins playing from the large screens around the sacred oval. This tune is played several times during the ceremony, and each time, the student section vocalizes along with it at the top of their lungs. At the end of the music, the ’husker warrior runs forward to the ball, while the students vocalize a long, loud note. This note ends when the warrior kicks the ball, at which point a guttural “oom!” is uttered by all the students – adding an appropriately forceful sound to an impressive visual event.

From that beginning, the battle rages on following certain types of patterns, each of which are associated with their own rituals. A good play from the ’husker warriors results in cheering and a rousing few notes from the ’husker musicians. (Similarly, the musicians of the opposing band of warriors play the beginning of their ritual music when they do well.)

When the ’huskers first reach the rectangular field at the end of the battleground, symbolically planting their seeds in the earth where they will grow into rich crops, the audience cheers wildly. Red globes filled with gas are released to float out over the sacred circle; these inform all those in the city not at the ceremony that the ’huskers have taken their first step toward victory. In addition, the musicians play the ritual music associated with the ’husker warriors: this is a song that everyone in attendance knows, as they clap in time to the rhythm, and at certain points in the music yell in unison, “Go ’huskers!”

Every time after this, when the ’huskers reach the symbolic cornfields with their seed in hand, the musicians play part of the ritual music, and the audience throw up their hands parallel to each other in a ceremonial symbol of victory. This is often followed by the attendees wiggling the fingers of their raised hands, indicating their eagerness to catch the ball as one of the ’husker warriors attempts to kick it through a tall metal rectangle on a pole at the far side of the battleground.

When it is the ’huskers’ opponents turn to attempt to score, the blackshirts are brought onto the field. Every time, their entrance is accompanied by menacing music. This is the cue for the student section to pound their wrists together, arms crossed, a ritual practice intended to strengthen the blackshirts and improve their ability to bring down their foes. In addition, the screens encourage all in attendance to “get loud,” to make noise, and to cheer for the ’huskers. This not only intimidates the warriors on the other side and encourages the blackshirts, it also provides very practical help to the ’huskers by making it too loud for the opposing team to strategize together on the battlefield.

At times throughout the ceremony, a yellow strip of cloth may be thrown onto to the battleground by the black and white clad rule-enforcers. This signals a rule violation. All in attendance stop and listen with bated breath, fearing to hear what the rule-enforcer has to say. If the man indicates that the ’huskers’ enemies are at fault, all those who support the land of the Good Life cheer. “Good call!” is heard throughout the sacred oval, as well as more aggressive comments, such as “Take that!” and “That’ll show them!”

When the enforcers assert that the ’huskers have been in violation, however, it is mandatory for the crowd to take offense. It is held as sacred truth that ’huskers will never break the rules of the ceremony; any call made against the ’huskers is clearly due to the stupidity and blindness of the rule-enforcers. By shouting enough insults and booing loudly enough, it is hoped by the crowd, the rule-enforcer will see the error of his ways and reverse his call.

It should be noted that this rarely works. Upon occasion, however, rule-enforcers will, indeed, review the decisions they have made and reverse them upon further review. These happenings contribute to the attendees’ beliefs that they do, in fact, help determine the outcome of the ceremony, and reinforces their commitment to making their pleasure or displeasure with the rule-enforcers known with every call.

Finally, every instance of the Gobi Gred ceremony requires the physical participation of its attendees in a massive visual display of solidarity. This unique ritual-within-a-ritual is looked forward to and embraced by attenders, who refer to its practice and completion as “the wave.” The wave is led by a ceremonial representative, who runs the length of the battlefield, encouraging attendees to stand up, raise their hands, and shout as he passes by. The result, once the representative has caught the attendees’ attention, is a “wave” of sight and sound that sweeps around the entire sacred oval and back again. Sometimes it can go two, three, or four times around before an event on the battlefield places the attention of all in attendance back on the exploits of their warriors.

Given that the land of the Good Life is landlocked, the origins of the oceanic reference are intriguing. Likely, the phrase comes from ancient travelers to distant coastlands who applied ocean imagery to the picture of cornfields blowing in the wind. Whatever its origins, the ritual is now an essential part of the Gobi Gred ceremony. By “doing the wave,” attendees represent the fields of corn that they hope to grow in the next year, and remind themselves and their warriors on the field of their identity as members of the cornhusker tribe.

While it requires a great deal of attention and a certain amount of training ahead of time to properly participate in the Gobi Gred ceremony, as can be seen from the descriptions above, attendees enjoy the work they do. Through their vocal and physical motions, they provide encouragement to their tribe’s warriors, they work to help their people achieve victory, and just as important, they affirm to themselves and each other their role as a valued part of the tribe of the land of the Good Life.

This affirmation is carried away from the sacred oval in the hearts of attendees even after the ceremony is successfully concluded. As participants file out, they reach up to the ceiling of the exit tunnel and touch the three-line tribal symbol painted there, in conscious mimicry of the actions of their warriors at the ritual’s start. Both inside and outside the sacred oval, the call and response of “Gobi Gred!” continues, echoing long into the night from the lips of men, women, and children clad in scarlet.


As you leave the sacred oval, the chant pulses in your bones, carrying with it the exultation of victory and the pride of knowing that you were part of something grand and great and powerful. You were a participant in the Gobi Gred ceremony, you are a member of the tribe of the ’huskers, and the memories and feelings that now dwell in your heart will bind you to these people and to the land of the Good Life into the future.

You can see, now, why even those who have left their homeland and settled far away still gather on festival days to watch the ceremony on screens in their homes. You can see why tribal members wear the emblems of the ’huskers on their clothes throughout the year. And now, whenever you hear the familiar ceremonial call in the distance, your lips curve up in a knowing smile, and you proudly reply, “Gobi Gred!”

Savvy Saturday 13

This is the second of a three-part series of Savvy Saturday articles where I discuss attending a cultural event here in Lincoln, NE as if it took place in a fantasy world. To see my thoughts on the preparations and background of the “Gobi Gred” ceremony, see last week’s blog post.

Slightly sunburned and half-deaf, with a rasp in my throat from shouting for two hours, I nonetheless walked with a spring in my step and a grin on my face as I emerged from the sacred oval where the first Gobi Gred ceremony of the year had just concluded.

Though I had thought I was prepared for my first experience of this mystic ritual of tribal solidarity, the reality of being a part of a 91,185-member crowd intent on a single goal was more intense than I had ever imagined. Far more than merely observing the ceremony, the attendees of the Gobi Gred ritual participated in a range of minor and major ceremonial functions that not only influenced the outcome of the ceremony itself, but also helped create the solidarity that is at the heart of the Gobi Gred. As a first-time participant-observer, I was naturally unfamiliar with these functions; fortunately, the more-experienced attendees were quite welcoming, and helped me gain a basic understanding of the practice as well as the meaning behind the rituals of Gobi Gred.

For those of you who haven’t been able to attend in person the ceremony of Gobi Gred, I’ll describe in the following paragraphs its basic happenings and the people who attend it. In next week’s post, I’ll conclude by discussing the specific rituals in which the attendees participate that make the Gobi Gred ceremony the spectacular, inspiring, and solidarity-building ritual that it is.

At its heart, the Gobi Gred ceremony is a ritual battle fought by two trained bands of warriors. One of these warrior bands represents the people of the land of the Good Life; the other represents a different tribe or challenge that the natives have faced in their history. As is appropriate for a tribe of farmers, the totem of the natives of the land of the Good Life is the hardworking cornhusker. Made strong by his work in the sun, made determined by his need to feed his family, made patient and loyal and hardy and brave by the challenges of the changing seasons, of predators, and of the never-ending work of farming, the cornhusker is a symbol of which the natives of the land of the Good Life are proud.

Typical totems against which the ’huskers do battle are the many natural threats to farmers and crops: bears, jackrabbits, wildcats, gophers, and occasionally even the so-called “cowboys” whose nomadic style of ranching ruins fields by the acre. It is hoped by the people of the land of the Good Life that in every instance of the ceremony, their ’husker warriors will overcome the current personified challenge of life, thus assuring victory for their people against that foe for another year.

The method of battle in this ceremony is complex, and also ritualistic in its components. The goal is for the band of ’husker warriors to carry a metaphorical seed to a metaphorical field, where the seed can be planted so that it will grow. The more seeds which are brought to the fields, the more crops can be grown, and thus the more successful the ritual. The seed is represented by an oval ball, small enough to throw with one hand but large enough to be seen from a distance. The field is represented by a rectangular strip of land at one end of the sacred oval of the Gobi Gred ceremony. However, as the ceremony progresses, the enemies of the ’huskers also attempt to take this seed and use it themselves – bringing it to their rectangular strip of land on the other side of the sacred oval. The battle lasts for hours, and at the end, the band of warriors who has taken the most seeds to their field (or nest or den, as the metaphorical case may be) is victorious.

For this ritual to be completed successfully (that is, in the ’huskers’ favor), multiple groups of people must follow their assigned roles. The central group, of course, is the warriors themselves. These young men wear the colors of their people when they fight, and those who are part of the band of ’huskers are highly celebrated by the natives of the land of the Good Life. Cheers greet them when they emerge onto the field of battle, and their names and faces are known to many. Within the ’huskers’ warrior band, there are two types of fighters: offense, who fight to move the ball forward, and “blackshirts,” who fight defensively to keep their foes from gaining ground.

While both the offense and the blackshirts are valued members of the ’huskers, the blackshirts cultivate a tougher image: they are represented by a skull wearing the traditional ceremonial helmet of the Gobi Gred, placed above two crossed bones on a field of black. Instead of the festive, victorious music that is played throughout the sacred oval when the offense comes to fight, a dangerous, ominous rumble of sound marks the appearance of the blackshirts. These young men, one is led to believe, are a group of warriors who make their foes blanch at their appearance.

Other important groups present at the Gobi Gred festival include: rule-enforcers, musicians, dancers, healers, merchants, and attendees. The rule-enforcers are a small group of individuals, distinctly garbed bright yellow or in striped black and white. The first manage the crowds of attendees, ensuring that they are clothed appropriately, behave appropriately, and don’t bring any substances into the sacred oval which would profane its sacred ground. (Chief among these is alcohol.) The second group, however, is both revered and hated: they are those who ensure that the warriors follow the rules of the ceremony to the letter. Violations are punished with ritual penalties that make it more difficult for victory to be gained.

Musicians play a variety of instruments from fifes to drums and horns. Their playing marks the progress of the ritual, as they perform several numbers at its beginning and at its mid-ceremony break, and also provide musical commentary as the ritual battle progresses. Two groups of musicians are always present at these rituals, one representing each band of warriors. Even as the ’huskers fight against their foes, the opposing groups of musicians play against each other, each attempting to outperform the other – often at the same time.

Several groups of dancers accompany each tribe’s musicians. Most are female, and all are highly trained to perform the ritual dances of the ceremony. These dances include synchronized kicks, turns, jumps, feats of gymnastics and flexibility, and the twirling of flags and batons, all of which is designed to be physically impressive and aesthetically pleasing. The ‘husker musicians and dancers are shown below:

Huskers Musicians


Near the field of battle, healers in gray shirts watch for any injuries that occur to the warriors. Every time there is an injury, the ceremony stops, and all wait for the healers to rush to the field and escort the hurt warrior out of the battle. This is a concession to the fact that the ritual is performed with humans rather than their totemic counterparts: no attendee truly wishes harm on the young men who fight on the field below, even those who represent the ’huskers’ lifelong foes. In fact, applause breaks out among the attendees every time an injured warrior from either band gets to his feet to leave the battlefield, in appreciation of his sacrifice and bravery.

As pictured above, a raised oval of tiered benches rises around the battlefield, reaching nearly to the clouds. It holds over ninety thousand individuals when full – and on festival days, it is always full. Walkways and stairs crisscross the sections of benches, and along these, merchants come selling native foods and beverages. This is an important service offered by those who administer the Gobi Gred festival, as attendees may be sitting in the sacred oval of the ceremony for five hours or more at a time.

Among the attendees themselves, there are several sub-groups that can be identified. The first and largest group is those who are mature native attendees, loyal to the tribe of the Good Life. These typically wear the traditional scarlet and white, as a sign of their support for their people and the ’huskers. Other groups include:

–          Children. Accompanied by their parents, these young devotees can be seen wearing miniature versions of ceremonial garb and copying what their elders do, being socialized into the proper ways and rituals of the people of the Good Life.

–          Blackshirt Loyals. This intense group of attendees takes the ritual of the Gobi Gred very seriously. Instead of wearing scarlet, they wear shirts of primarily black (accented with tribal symbols in red and white) to show support for the blackshirts of the ’huskers.

–          Students. It is a rule that the warriors of the Gobi Gred ceremony must be drawn from the male adolescents of the people of the Good Life who attend Yuenel, the center where tribal elders pass on their knowledge to the next generation. Those students at Yuenel who are not warriors of the Gobi Gred themselves are given special seats at the ceremony; in return for this privilege, they are expected to participate in the ceremony in numerous and diverse ways, as will be detailed next week.

–          The Enemy. At every ceremony, a small contingent of individuals can be found who wish the ’huskers’ enemies to prevail in the Gobi Gred. These wear the colors of the band of warriors who challenge the ’huskers that week, and perform their own battle rituals as the ceremony progresses. They typically sit or stand together in a small corner of the sacred oval of the ceremony, and their voices are drowned out by the sea of noise that comes from the red-clad crowd all around them.

–          Living Symbols. Usually a subset of the student attendees, certain individuals take it upon themselves to dress in a manner that will gain attention and show everyone – including the ’huskers themselves – their extreme desire to identify with the warriors. Some wear hats that look like corncobs, others paint their chests with tribal symbols, and others may adopt entire personas during the ritual. (For instance, one individual observed had painted his face to look like a skull while wearing the ceremonial dress of ’husker warriors, thus becoming a metaphorical blackshirt.) These efforts are typically rewarded by other attendees with approving words and gestures, and sometimes by the administrators of the Gobi Gred ceremony who display pictures of these living symbols on a large screen for all in attendance to see.

In sum, a wealth of noise and color, of action and waiting, of held breaths and cheers, await all who attend the Gobi Gred ceremony in person. From old men to infants, from graceful female dancers to brawny male warriors, all types can be found participating at the Gobi Gred. Next week, I’ll elaborate on what it is that the warriors and participants actually do at the ceremony. Until then, Go Huskers, and Gobi Gred!

Savvy Saturday 12


The cry rings out from all corners of the city, marking a day of festivity and anticipation. For the first time, today, August 31, 2013, I’m going to be a part of it.

As a fantasy novelist, I’m always looking for ways to apply the real world to worlds that I create, and especially to experience interesting real-life happenings that I can turn into equally interesting fictional happenings. This isn’t to say that I often succeed; I’m too much of an introvert to go out looking for things to do all the time. Today, however, I’m getting out of the house, and going to experience a cultural ritual, a rite of passage that I have been putting off for far too long.

This event is going to result in a three-part series of Savvy Saturdays – today I’m going to describe the background and preparations leading up to the strange and magical ceremony that I’m attending today, and the next two weeks’ will describe my experience after I go. As a good sociologist and novelist, I’m going to describe this for you as if it were an occurrence in a fictional world of my making.

The ceremony takes place, as is proper, in the capital city of the land of the Good Life. Here, farmers, tenders of herds, traders, scholars, and those who rule over them gather together to participate in a ritual that binds them through common dress, speech, ritual, emotion, prayer, and chance. As opposed to many types of rituals, the outcome of the ceremony is never certain. It may culminate in either a joyful or a sorrowful end – a ritual victory or defeat of the land’s warriors against its many challengers. Victory, of course, is seen as a good omen, whereas defeat casts the natives of the land into gloom. Much time and many resources are spent on attempting to prepare those who represent the tribe’s warriors to perform to their utmost, so that victories may be assured.

Leading up to the ceremony, the natives of the land of the Good Life wish each other the festive greeting of “Gobi Gred.” When asked why they say this, the natives reply that it’s simply tradition. Possibly, Gred was an ancient hero of the people, whose victories the ceremony was originally designed to honor. Alternatively, the phrase may originate in an ancient tongue used in centuries past, and now forgotten. Whatever its origins, the phrase is ubiquitously heard and seen in the capital city as a way of invoking tribal pride and good fortune. Many individuals have even put signs with “Gobi Gred” on their houses, possibly showing their loyalty to their folk hero, or possibly invoking the words as a good luck charm to bring happiness to their dwellings.

Whenever the ritual of Gobi Gred takes place, current and former natives of the land of the Good Life come from leagues away to participate. They may spend days traveling to be in the capital on a day of Gobi Gred, and many of them do not even view the ritual with their own eyes. Instead, they listen to the words of the town-crier and the visual images relayed and displayed on large screens around the city, which convey the order of events of the ceremony and let them follow along.

To be a part of the Gobi Gred ritual, even if one is not in attendance at the ceremony, a dress code is required. Scarlet, the color of blood and victory, must be worn prominently. It is typically accented by the color white, for purity and righteousness. Typically, natives wear a short one-piece tunic in these colors and pants (or shorter leg-coverings) beneath. Hats may also be worn. Showing the cultural importance of the Gobi Gred ritual, the tribal symbol of the land – two vertical parallel lines, connected by a diagonal that runs from upper left to lower right – is also featured on every official ceremonial article of clothing. Even before the day of Gobi Gred, some individuals can be found (typically those individuals more devoted to the ceremony’s outcome) who wear these sacred colors, showing their faith in a positive outcome of the ritual.

To reach the location of the Gobi Gred ritual is a challenge in itself. The ceremony is held in a large oval space held sacred by natives; it is rarely used for any purpose besides the Gobi Gred. On Gobi Gred days, the streets of the city are pressed tight with people wearing scarlet; a journey that would normally take less than an hour can take half a day. This does not seem to perturb the people of the Good Life. As they travel to the ritual, they smile, wave, and wish each other a happy Gobi Gred day. Indeed, the traveling and the conversations with others who are buoyed by the festive atmosphere can be just as memorable and enjoyable an experience as the ceremony to come.

I’m looking forward to finding this out for myself in just a few hours.

In the meantime, have a great day, and Gobi Gred!