Yemeni traditional games: Remembering our childhood [Archives:2007/1101/Last Page]

November 8 2007
Gomayda (hide and seek) is a very popular girls game.
Gomayda (hide and seek) is a very popular girls game.
One variaton of Al-Khal.
One variaton of Al-Khal.
By: Fatima Al-Ajel
Yemeni traditional games: Remembering our childhood

Without disrupting their specialized small world, children still enjoy their childhood by playing traditional games. Traditional Yemeni children's games are many, but some have disappeared while others remain popular. Fatima Al-Ajel explores these various types of traditional games in a series. This third part highlights some girls' games.

While some may classify popular children's games according to such games' rules or children's skills, part three of this series describes games suitable for girls. Some boys even refuse to play them because they are considered 'girl games' and easy to play; thus, because they consider themselves men, they prefer games that show off their strength.

Girls' games create mothering emotions and build a social atmosphere between girls living in a particular zone. Most girls' games involve dolls, toys, stones, etc., and require two or more players. Girls also like to sing as they play. The following are some Yemeni girls' games:

Waqal or hopscotch is a favorite among girls, who enjoy drawing grids either on their neighborhood sidewalk or in their house's yard and then jumping or hopping from one end of the grid to the other.

“Most afternoons, I play games with my friends in our neighborhood and Waqal is my favorite,” 11-year-old Hanan Al-Nimr expresses.

There are two types of Waqal, one consisting of 10 grids, which girls older than age 8 like to play, and the other consisting of five grids for girls between ages 5 and 7.

Requiring only a stone, any number of girls may play Waqal, which begins with the first player throwing the stone inside square number 1 and then hopping into each square, beginning with square 1 and ending at square 10.

If a player falls, steps on the square's lines or the stone rolls outside the square, her turn is stopped and another player goes. All players must accept these rules and follow them in order for play to continue successfully.

Before her turn ends, the winner throws the stone outside of the Waqal grid, jumps out to it and again throws it into the Waqal in order to win a square or “house” for herself. She's then free to keep the other players from jumping into it.

Girls practice a particular skill from Waqal and that is walking with closed eyes between the squares without touching the lines. This teaches them how to balance and walk gracefully. Waqal also teaches patience and respect for another's turn.

Wardah, ya Wardah, meaning flower, and Salwa, ya Salwa are two girls' games played in a group. Other games have similar rules and atmosphere. Play commences with the girls holding hands and forming a circle, which is a flower. They then sing, telling the flower to open and close.

Salwa, ya Salwa is similar to Wardah, ya Wardah in that a group of girls forms a circle, but the difference is that one girl pretends to be Salwa, the game's heroine. After being selected by the others, she stays in the middle of the circle and cries. The girls and Salwa then dialogue through song. They ask Salwa why she's crying, to which she replies that she wants her lost doll. Play continues until Salwa stands, closes her eyes and randomly selects another girl to be Salwa. Sometimes, everyone wants to be Salwa, so play continues until each has her turn.

Nata Al-Habel or jump rope is popular worldwide, with many countries considering it a girl's game. Done individually or in groups, one version uses a long rope.

An individual holds the two ends of the rope in her two hands, then jumps quickly over it repeatedly, bringing the rope over her head and then in front of her again in order to jump over it. Precise timing is required between jumping and turning the rope, whose pace can be controlled depending on the individual's skill and stamina. This movement is repeated until the player either tires or steps on the rope.

Ten-year-old 'Awhoud Al-Sokhimi, who describes jump rope as a girls' game because boys never are allowed to play, enthuses, “I play Nata Al-Habel in my neighborhood with my friends in the afternoons. We spend hours playing it and we never get tired of it because we have such a good time.”

Group play requires two or more girls, as two players hold each end of the rope and then move it around in a large circular motion. A third player then jumps over it as it turns continuously. If the jumper misses, she must switch places with one of those holding the rope. Two or three girls sometimes jump at the same time and whoever falls or steps on the rope at the wrong time loses her turn.

Gomaydah meaning “blindfold” is a very popular girls' game among 4- to 10-year-olds played by three or more girls. One player is chosen to be blindfolded with a scarf and she then tries to catch the others. If someone is caught, she then becomes the new blindfolded one and play begins again.

'Ara'yas, meaning dolls, is one of girls' most favorite games. In the past, they were creative and made their own dolls using small sticks for the body and a piece of cloth for the face, on which they would draw the eyes, nose and mouth. They would gather together with their dolls in the afternoon, but arrange to make them the day before, beginning with the mother, then the daughters, etc.

'Ara'yas is one of the few things a girl can play alone, but most prefer to play it together, acting out the roles of their elders, such as their mothers, sisters, etc. Especially in 'Ara'yas, some girls attempt to replicate their lifestyle in their play, imitating their mothers and how they deal with each other in real life.

Nawal Mohammed, a 38-year-old mother of five, notes the differences between the past and now. “I've never forgotten how much fun it was to play this, but I realize the times are changing. We were so creative and innocent; we had fun in a simple way. In the past, girls made their own special dolls in different sizes and named each one. But today, girls simply go and buy dolls, some of which already are named, so I think children today don't enjoy it like we did.”

Girls practice their future life roles by playing such games, subconsciously qualifying themselves as women who are mothers, sisters, wives, etc. Motherhood and kindness are what girls mostly acquire from playing such games.

Games played with stones

Some girls' games are played using stones and there are different ways to play them. Al-Khal, which means uncle, is one such game requiring two or more players who use only their hands and fingers during play. According to some researchers, using the fingers during play, for example, helps develop a player's mental abilities.

Players collect five small stones, sit on the ground and choose who will start. A player throws the five stones on the ground. She picks one up and tosses it into the air, eventually doing the same with all of the stones by picking up two stones at a time, then three stones and so on. This game is similar to a game called jacks in other parts of the world.

After this, the player crosses her index and middle fingers and then places her thumb and other fingers on the ground to form a bridge or hole through which she throws stones without touching any others. The last stone thrown is called Al-Khal.

If she succeeds in doing this, she reaches the last step, wherein she must toss them all up and try to catch them in both of her palms held together. She then must toss them into the air and catch them on the backs of her two hands put together in order to win. If a player fails to catch them, it's another's turn.

Another variation of this game is Naqaes. A very traditional game, it mostly has disappeared, especially in cities, because it requires collecting at least 100-200 stones and it's rare that children can find that many stones on the paved roads in their zones.

Naqaes usually is played in pairs, with each pair sharing their collection of stones. Players agree beforehand on the number of stones each pair must bring. They then start to play in turn.

The rule is that a player must throw one stone into the air and then pick up at least two stones. If she can't, she loses her turn and another goes. This game teaches children how to count correctly, encourages pairs to work and creates competition.

A third variation of the same jacks-like game involves digging a hole in the ground. At least two players place the same number of stones into the hole and then play in turn. Each attempts to show her skill by throwing a stone into the air and, before it falls, collecting other stones. Whoever picks up the most stones wins. This game also promotes competition.