Translated from Tamil by Nisha Felicita
Games and entertainment are a huge part of the culture of tribals and Adivasis. My Paliyar tribal community in Tamil Nadu also believes that entertainment and play is an essential part of life, and sets aside time after work to engage in these activities. My ancestors played a wide variety of games, which are nowadays hard to come by.
Here are a few games that were popular in the Paliyar tribal communities:
1. The Tree Game
The Paliyar tribe sourced their food from the forests and were very observant of animals in the forest. Monkeys in the forest ate many types of fruits, for which they swung from one tree to another. This inspired a game where children swing across branches of trees. The tree for the game was chosen based on the size and the strength of the branches to withhold the weight of the person swinging from it.
The game involves chasing a person by swinging and climbing across branches, and if a person gets caught, they then chase another person. The chaser has to wait at the bottom of the tree before the game begins, while the people being chased are already on the tree. The person who is being chased has to escape the chaser by swinging and climbing around the same tree if they escape to another tree; they are disqualified and have to chase someone else.
This game is a great form of exercise and helped my ancestors build strength and endurance and stay fit.
2. Stick, Stick, Tray
This game can be played only by two people and requires sticks and mud. The mud is dumped in an elongated pile, and the stick is broken into smaller pieces and hidden inside the pile of mud. The other player has to find the hidden stick inside the pile of mud. When the player finds the stick, it is their turn to hide the stick in the mud. This game is a great way to pass the time and get our hands dirty!
3. The Game of Pebbles
This game, called Sottangal in Tamil (meaning pebbles) can be played by any number of players. Five small stones are collected, and four stones are placed on the ground. One stone remains in the hand of the player and is thrown upward. Before the stone comes back down, the player has to pick up another stone and catch the stone thrown up, too. Again, one stone is thrown in the air, and another stone is picked up before the stone is thrown up comes back down. This is how all four stones have to be collected.
For the next rounds, one stone is thrown in the air, and two then three then four stones are collected before the stone is thrown up comes down. The next round includes taking five stones in hand, throwing them up in the air and quickly turning the hand with the palm facing down. The aim is to catch all five stones on the back of the hand and then throw them up again.
The number of stones the players are able to catch in the last round will determine the number of points the player will score. The number of stones one particular player manages to catch is noted, their total score is calculated when the game is done, and the winner with the most points is declared the winner.
Hopscotch is a game played on a level ground using a piece of coal. Four squares are drawn on the ground, and a pebble is thrown in the first square. The player then steps into the next square on one leg and hops to the other squares and then comes back to the first square and picks up the pebble with their toes and takes it in their hand.
While playing this game, the player cannot put their other foot down; if they do, that player will be disqualified. Other players will continue to play this game in the same way. The players will throw the pebble in each of the four squares for each round, then hop to the other squares and come back to pick up the pebble from the square with their toes and then hop back to the first square and then out of the squares.
At the next level, the player will use their index finger and middle finger to indicate scissors, place the pebble in between those fingers and hold it. While holding the pebble like this, they have to hop all over the four squares like this. Then they have to put their hand behind their back and hop all over the squares again.
For the next levels, the pebble should be placed on the players head, then on their foot between their toes while hopping and shouldn’t fall down or lose balance. The next level involves covering the player’s eyes and the player hopping around all four of the squares, without jumping on the line of any of the squares.
If one player finishes the games with all these levels, they will place the pebble they used on the first square. The player from the other team will have to hop around the first square and only then go on playing. Different versions of hopscotch are played across the world, and children love playing this game and arranging competitions to see who’s best at the game.
5. Tony King
A small hole is dug in the ground To play this Tony King marble game–a hole just big enough for the marble to fall into. The players mark a boundary line of sorts and do not cross the line while playing. The players must stand in front of this boundary line and roll a marble towards the hole theY made earlier. While playing like so, the players whose marble is the nearest to the hole, they will be given a chance to shoot another marble at their earlier one, to make their first marble fall into the hole to score.
If this player’s marble does not fall into the hole, the next player whose marble is the second closest to the hole will be given a chance to shoot at their marble to score. Whoever scores by making their marble enter the hole, will be made the King in that round. The person who is the King can also shoot at the other player’s marbles to force it into the hole and claim the score for themselves. The person who scores with others marbles as well as theirs and wins is the King.
Tony players are the other players, whose marbles were claimed by the King. Players who have lost will be made to shoot at the marbles, those who score will be the next King. The player who is now King can hit anyone’s marble near them with their marbles. Like this, everyone will get to be the King if they score and are given a chance to shoot at the marbles of the players and score. This game was and is played by adults and children alike in the Paliyar community.
6. Pentagon Marble Game
This Pentagon marble game has to be played with two teams. A team can have any number of players, as long as both the teams have the same number of players. A fairly level ground, surface or place is chosen to play this game, after which players roll their marbles on this surface with one big sized marble that they have.
Once the marble has stopped rolling, a line should be drawn around the single biggest marble. The line that is drawn around this marble is called the boundary line. The two playing teams will stand in around this boundary line, and each member of the playing teams will roll their marble towards the biggest marble that is placed inside of the boundary line. While starting the game, the team whose marble is closest to the biggest marble inside the boundary will get to play first.
The team members whose marbles fell farther from the boundary marked biggest marble must place their marbles inside the boundary line. After placing their marbles inside the boundary line, the players from the other team all go near the boundary line and try to push their marbles into the boundary line by hitting a marble at their marbles. So after everyone has had the chance to roll their marbles, the players from the other team can now try to score by targeting the marbles and making them roll inside the boundary line.
This team will be given three chances to score. This team should use their three chances and scatter all the marbles that are inside the boundary to come out, so as to give themselves a good chance at winning, within the three chances that they are given. The first team will again play for three chances at scattering the marbles from inside the boundary line, like the team before they did.
Whichever team is playing with their three chances should get their marbles out of the boundary line in those given chances, or else they forfeit their marbles to the other team’s players, who will also use their three chances to try and do the same. The teams will take chances in turns to play this way, till the marbles are all out of the boundary line.
Each of the players will be assigned a marble to target. The other players should not target and score another player’s marbles. Each of the players will use their three chances to score their targeted marbles. If a player manages to score their targeted marbles in the three chances given to them, that player’s team can continuously play until they miss a target. If a marble lands very close to the boundary line, it’s termed as Thalai Kattu (Head wrap).
Now the player will have to roll his marble from above his head, and if the target marble is very close to the players, this is called Kannu Kattu (Blindfolded). While playing this way the striking team will play and score with the three chances given to them, if one of them misses, then the other team will have to bring their marbles to the boundary line from the center or outside the line with their elbows.
Nowadays, games have gone from physical activity outdoors to mental and menial physical activity indoors on screens. Not only does this result in deteriorating health due to lack of movement, but a lot of screen time may also harm a child’s mental health. We must encourage both children and adults to step away from the screens and step outside to play and spend time in nature.
This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.
This article was first published in Youth Ki Awaaz