Qataris of the past never forgot leisure and recreation, they had games to play as adults and children.

Although the games were mostly humble, they played an important role in stimulating, entertaining and preserving the social relations among people. They also reflected the daily life of the Qataris at that time. This heritage was handed down from generation to generation just as any other custom. Experts say that there were some 100 different games in ancient Qatar played by children and adults.

All areas in the country had their own popular games and although some of them underwent changes both in terms of governing rules and ways of playing, most of them preserved the same characteristics.

Reviving the past with Dama

Dama, a traditional board game of the region, was played at Katara as part of the 2012 National Sport Day activities. Faraj Al Mohammad, along with a group of Qatari men, gathered to play the game that was once an integral part of Qatari lifestyle.

They invited onlookers to learn something about the game which looks similar to the English games Draughts and American Checkers but had completely different rules.

Not too long ago Qatari fishermen would gather on the shores to play the game, which some experts say originated in ancient Egypt. Today, with the flood of technology and luxury items, a large majority of people have forgotten to play the game.

‘The people who went to sea used to carry the game in their pockets and played it whenever they could. Now we have the luxury of tables and boards. Before it was just a piece of cloth’, Al Mohammad said.

The ancient game is generally played across the Middle East. It is very popular in Turkey and the Philippines. The origin of Dama, however, is disputed, says Al Mohammad.

A few men gather at Souq Waqif to play every once in a while, but there is a need to revive more interest in the game. However, there are people like Abu Mehmood who play Dama on the Internet and keep the spirit of the game alive.

The games children play

Many Qatari youngsters, like their counterparts worldwide, love hi-tech toys and all the latest attractions. But at some level most still enjoy the traditional games – the sort their parents and grandparents played as children.

Ask any adult about games they remember and they would most likely list things such as hide-and-seek, marbles, jumping rope, hitting a target with stones, throwing hoops or horse-shoes, or games involving bowling hoops or wheels. Sometimes they reflect the way children use simple or discarded objects to create a game, in other cases they reflect what is going on in the world around them, as was with the English game ‘Ring a Ring o’ Roses’ which was a song originally associated with deaths cause by the great plague.

While there are a few games that are specific to one country or another, it is surprising how many are shared around the world.

Give a child a length of rope and he/she will inevitably end up playing a series of skipping and jumping games. Give him/her a hoop or a wheel and a different set of games will emerge. Hide and Seek – in its many variations – is simple and universally popular.

Whereas children used to have to find things to amuse themselves, creating games out of nothing, modern children have – at least in developed countries – become used to being entertained by the television, video and computer games, boxed games, and technologically advanced toys. Few go outside to play traditional games, and Qatari children are no exception. Some old children’s games are still played and enjoyed, especially in smaller towns and villages where children spend more time outdoors. In order to record the games before they disappear completely, a few years ago a project to document them was mounted by Qatar’s Youth and Sports General Authority in conjunction with the Arab Gulf States Folklore Centre, which also made a pictorial record. Here are a few they identified:

‘Taq Taqieh’ is a game played by both boys and girls, and is very similar in format to the 20th century English game ‘Lost Letter’, which has hundreds of variations around the world. The children sit on the ground in a circle, facing inwards, while one member of the group walks or runs around the outside, singing ‘taq taqieh’. He or she will then drop an object (originally a taqieh, the crocheted or embroidered cap worn by the boys on its own or under the ghutra or head-dress). The one who has dropped the object races away, the one behind whom it was dropped has to jump up, pick it up and chase after them, trying to get round the circle and sit down in the vacated space. Whoever is left standing takes the object and the game starts over again.

‘Al Haloosh’ and ‘Al Ailah’ are number games which involve the movement of small stones or sometimes seeds; they can be played on a flat surface, but more commonly the objects are moved into small depressions or ‘cups’ gouged into the ground. Among the rock carvings found in Qatar are small lines or rosettes of depressions thought to have been used for some of these games.

Kids playing Dahouri

Dahouri’ is a game in which children push a wheel along in front of them but unlike bowling a hoop, the wheel is attached to a wire or rod. The children use a small old wheel from a discarded bicycle or pram and attach it to a stick at the hub. They then push the wheel in front of them as they run.

While the English-speaking world plays ‘leapfrog’, Qatari children play ‘Al Natt’or ‘Al Natt Ingleise’! The game is identical. One child bends down low as an ‘obstacle’; the others have to run and leap over him, placing their hands on his back or shoulders as they do so. The game increases in the degree of difficulty as the child playing the ‘obstacle’ gradually straightens up, forcing the others to leap higher and higher.

Since so many children used to play along the shore or among the sand dunes, they developed a game of ‘burying’ each other in the sand, called ‘Bobsante’, ‘alive or dead’? First, they scoop out a depression in the sand for one child to lie in, then they start to cover him with sand; if he says ‘dead’ they stop and his turn is over; if he says ‘alive’ they pile on more sand. The winner is the one who is covered by most sand. It’s a game played in many different countries, but of all the traditional games its the one most likely to disappear because of safety concerns and one which most people now think should have adult supervision.

Author: Sarah Mascarenhas

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