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Changing Customs Of The Riverain Sudan (the games)

By: Ahmed Alhaj (Site Admin)


Khartoum (Sudanow)-The Social customs that were practiced by the Sudanese who live along the Nile or near itover the past century, rolled up some change due to variables of time and vicissitudes age and variability. some are still practiced even today in some parts of the riverain Sudan ,as brand Professor Abdullah Tayeb said, who collected and wrote many of these habits in Articles in the magazine (Sudan notes and records), a magazine concerned with documenting the life and history of Sudan.

Professor Abdullah Tayeb show in these articles, which he wrote it in 1955 -1956-1964-1998 years,  the customs of the people of Sudan in the Nile valley from Woman's pregnancyup to marriage .

The Professor Abdullah Tayeb Institute for the Arabic language, University of Khartoum, recently published this set of articles after being translated by Mohamed Osman Makki.

D. Siddiq Omar Siddiq Director of the Institute, the importance of this articles and its place in the studying of Sudan Folklore motivated us to translate it in to Arabic.

 He goes on saying it is  One of the venerable knowledge which accounted for, as a multitude of research, was (Sudanese Folktale) which he wrote  in Arabic, then he translated it into English with his own pen, not mentioning his other encyclopedic works, such as what he wrote in a research connected to the Sudanese colloquial Arabic Language to the Academy of Arabic Language in Cairo, and the scattering works of interest, in the numerous articles in magazine and lectures. 

Abdullah Tayeb said himself ," Even as I now write this paper ,most of us are aware of the rapid  change that are daily transforming Sudanese life from that of a medieval community deeply rooted in tradition, to that of an Afro-Arab nation newly born under the impact of western civilization-Many styles and modes of life-as I knew it in my boyhood-have completely disappeared, Many are in the process of fading away, And some, very few indeed, can still be described in the distant villages and among the more conventional  homes. It is in the interest of students of sociology, anthropology and history to make a record of all these, before the final break-up of the old patterns takes place and new fashions and ways of living and behavior prevail.

And we will publish them on (SUDANOW) pages in this thread, and we'll start onset also began by Abdullah Tayyib himself, a customs relating to pregnancy and pre-and post-natal and related nifaas. then evolve with it in human life at the stage of early childhood, games, boyhood, education, work and marriage.

On the last issue we spoke about the customs, From Birth to Puberty Birth and Early Infancy, then the child, the child hair,  here we will starts with:


the games

Apart from the universal games of hide- seek (dususiyyah) five jacks (maddu), hunt- thimble) (faddist)dolls of brides and mothers( bith ca ab ) etc. the games which used to be belayed- most of which are now dying may  be grouped into two classes: boys, games and girls, games, and further subdivided into doy and nigh games .

By day, the boys, games were mostly of aleisurly nature some of them however, were strenuous. And some were bainful and obviously meant train boys for the ideal of manhood according to Sudanese concebtion the leisurely

Games began as simple chess- board and chance games. The simplest chess- board game was (safrajat) this was blayed by tow boys. With there pieces of equal value for each( usually date-stones vesus pebbles) and nine squares

(3 by 3) made by scooping hollws on the sand. The first boy succeeding in getting all his three pieces on one row , not counting the original row in which he had blaced his pieces at the beginning ,would be the winner.

( sija) was more advanced than ( safrajat) this was played with twth twelve

Pieces for each of the two blayers

(camels’ dung versus date-stones, for example) and twenty-five squares (5 by 5). The pieces when it was surrounded by two of his opponent’s pieces. “sija” requires more skill than draughts. And many adults never grew out of the habit of playing it to while away the time.

The simplest of the chance games was “Al fil” *(literally, the elephant). This game is similar to snakes-and-ladders, or perhaps “Ludo” . A circular track of squares would be made by scooping hollows on the sand, the innermost square being the last in the track . Then a row of five or six squares would be made near it. Four short sticks cut from the branches of the date-palm, and having the back of the flat side scraped, would be used as dice. These were called “Tab” (plural of word tabah –plam branch). The four sticks with the green sides upward counted as six (nicknamed “nom”: sleep), with the white sides upward counted as four (nicknamed “Arbash”, white), with one green side upward as three (nichnamed “talli”, short for  talatah: three), with two green sides upward as two (nicknamed  “granayn”: two horns), with one white side upward as one (nicknamed “walad”: boy or jack). A throw of “walad”, “nom”, or “arbash”, gave the player a second chance. It was necessary to get a “walad” to be able to start. After reaching the innermost square, it was necessary to get “walad” to transfer to the five squares in a row. And each of these squares required a “walad” . In the last square the player’s piece became a “fil” (an elephant), and he would start again from the very beginning with increased power of movement. For a throw of “garanayn” (two horns) the “fil” would cover five square counting thus:

Two horns

One and two

And elephant, elephant

And the one eye too

A bonus of three would be add to each throw. And this would enable the “fil” to overtake the other pieces, and each piece overtaken would have to start again. In this respect the game resembled snacks-and ladders. The losers would be compelled to give the winner a piggy-ride.

A more advanced chance game was “Al Tab” (The sticks). This was played with forty-eight squares (12 by 4) and twelve pieces for each of the two players on teams.

A team consisted of two players only. Each player (or team) aimed at replacing the others’ pieces by his own. A ”walad” throw is required to start, and it was also necessary in order to attack  an opponent’s piece. The game resembles backgammon in many respects.

These games were played while the boys were watching the goats, or whilst resting on the way to do running errands for the family.

During the rainy season, boys would give up “Sija” and “Tab” or laying snares for birds and molesting scarabs. These poor insects would be pinned by thorns to wheels fashioned from “dura” – canes in imitation of the water-wheel, and then frightened into whizzing round and round by means of fire.

The most important of the games of manlinessan and strength were (shatarah) (literally: courage,) butan (dueling) and (sura) (wrestling). Shatarah) was game of  bravado aboy would scorch the back of his arm until the skin was burnt away with asmall stick whose edge was red- hot. The more brands he on his

Ram, the brouder he was of himself in upper blue nile, the according general

Neguib, “Shatarah” was performed by exposing the skin to a burning cob of

“dura” the hot moisture of which would scorch a bigger portion of the skin. General Neguib who practice the latter from “Shatarah” as a boy , speaks of it with approval in his autobiography  and recommends it as a good training in endurance.

“Butan” was dueling with sticks cut from green branches. Two boys would strike one another an equal number of strokes. The boy who wailed or displayed pain was considered, the loser and will be greatly ashamed of himself. “Butan” did not stop at boyhood, for young men resorted to it in order to show of before the girls, or in order to settle a private quarrel. But in this case whips made from the hide of the hippopotamus were used.

“Sura”, that is wrestling , was performed by one boy holding the side of the opponent above the waist and trying to throw him on the ground or skillfully cause him to fall down. A more claborate from of wresting practiced by older boys and sometimes by youth, was performed in the following manner. A boy draw a circle on the sand and plant his right foot therein. Another boy hopping on one leg would attack hin in an attempt to remove his leg from the circle. If, however, the attacker’s uplifted foot touched the ground, the boy in the circle would win. The game is still widely known in the more remote villages.

gmes at nights

The moon –lit nights offered the best opportunity for play. The night games were numerous. But

they categories be divided into  games played by older boys, adolescents and young men,and games

played by smaller boys (harrayna) were the most Widely known of the former category . to the latter category belong ( al miz ghurab hay-lab-lab) and the game  of the fox (al tha lab)



This expression literally means we have become hot in other words we are ready and well-prepared (harrayan) required two teamer, normally about ten eight .they would stand about hundred  yards abart,each in arrow. The blade where one team .they would all prepare for hopping each holding allege back with one of his hands. Then one of the teams would offer to start off. They would be the defenders, and the others would be the attackers. The defenders had to choose one of themselves for the role of (arus) (bridge) the duty would be to defend the bride from any attack until (she) could arrive safe at the goal. Any player who was forced to or be any chance happed to let go his leg, or fall down had to quit the arena of the game lf this occurred to the bride the side that wising it would lose. The defenders, each partending  to be the bride, would try hard to engage the attackers until the real bride was safe home. A lot of time and energy would be spent in trying to spot who was the bride and also in overcoming as many opponents possible .then the sght of alone hopper dashing rapidly across the furthest side of the playing ground would direct attention to the real target. (al arus al arus), the attackers would shout. And then there would be afurious sally,in the hope of preventing the bride from reaching the goal. Harrayna used to be played in almost every villaga and sometimes girls ( tom- boys) took part in it now it is practiced only in the schools during the day- time.



This game was known among the ancient Arabs by the name of "Udzaym Waddah') or the white bone. The Sudanese name "Shilayl' is  also Arabic, derived from the root "Shalia", to acatter or chase.

A white bone would be shown to all the players until each was satisfied that he would be able to identify it. Then one of the boys would hold it in his hand and shout:

Where is Shilayl

And the others would shout back,

It was eaten by a brute Then again he would shout

where has Shilayl gone/

And again they would reply

It was eaten by a corocdile.

Then he would throw shilayl (that is, the bone) into the air. And all the players would rush to find it. Then first to find it would throw it the next time.

Sometimes girls took part in this game. Nowadays it has disappeared from most of the Villages of the Rivera in Sudan.

Al Miz

"Al Miz" means the wicket. It was a form of cricket played by the smaller boys. The inside of a small ground would serve as a ball. The inside of a small ground would serve as a ball. The players, however, played as individuals, each for himself, and not as teams. Each boy would try to throw the ball as far possible, and the others would run in order to get it and hit to the wicket therewith . The final winner would be given piggy-back rides by all the losers.

"Ghurab" or Crow

A boy was blind =folded and led some distance away. He was called "Ghirab" (Crow). The other boys would sit down in a row. The first in the row (beginning from the right) would call out, disguising his voice as much as possible,

Ghurab (Crow)

The crow would reply: (Ghaq) in imitation of the sound by the crow. Then a dialogue would follow in this manner:

boy  Eat the dust

Crow       I have eaten it

boy         A ship has come to you

Crow       She has passed by

Boy         There is a silk ribbon therein

Crow       It has passed by

Boy         There is the powder of sandalwood therein

Crow       It has passed by

Boy         There is that which will surround you and destroy your teeth  therein Guess which?

The crow had to guess which of the boys was calling out to him. If he made a wrong guess, another boy would do the calling out in same manner. If he guessed the right name, and he was bound to do so after one or two tries, the boy whose name was guessed, would be given a piggy-ride by the crow who had, thought blind-folded, to find out the place where the other boys were sitting. His straying about caused tremendous laughter.

We may well note the meaning of the calls: "A ship has come to you, etc". The ribbon of silk and the powder of Sandalwood are both items closely connected with circumcision and marriage,


A boy sat down some twenty yards away from a group of boys who stood up in a row. The boy wrote down a number on the sand. Then he called out to the first boy in the row:


The latter replied:

Hay-lab-Lab (a sound imitating the he –goat, which was meant as a rude retun).

The write would as:

What number have I written?

The latter would try to guess the number and would reply:

By you faith ,

Which may plauck out your eyes

Is it not the number nine (for example)

If this was a wrong guess, the writer would ask the second boy using the some words. If a correct guess was made, he would shout:

saddle and ride

Whereupon the who made the right guess would try to get a piggy-ride from one of the other boys. But they would run away in the direction of the writer of the number. And he would chase them. Whoever was touched by him, had to give a piggy-ride.

There were many variations on "Hay-Lab-Lab" in some of which the boys used very obscene language, such as: The . . . . . . . . . . . of your father has come to you

and the others would reply:

It has begotten us and begotten you

"Al Tha "Lab"

A number of boys sat in a circle on the sand. A boy held a turban in his hand, one end of which was made into a knot (and filled with round behind the boys. He said :

The fox

And the other replied: Has passed, has passed

The chorus went on as follows:

The      Fox        The fox

The      boys       Has passed has passed

The      fox        in his tail,

The      boys      Are seven knots

The     fox    And the garment,

The     boys   Has fallen in  the well

The     fox    And the owner there of

The     boys   is one who is a pig

Then the "fox" would stealthily drop  the turban behind one of the boys. He would continue in leading the chorus as before. If the boy behind whom the turban was dropped did  not notice what had happened, the "fox" would beat him with the turban and would chase him round the circle until he made a complete turn round it. f however, the boy discovered that the turn had dropped behind him , he would chase the "fox" and beat him until he would make a complete turn round the circle and sit where he had been. Then he would play the role of the fox.

Al tha'alab (the fox) seems to have come to the Sudan from Egypt, because some of the words in the chorus did not resemble the common Sudanese dialect.

It is also exactly like the common English game: I sent a letter to my love

An on the way I dropped it

Some one must have picked it up

And put it in their pocket

It isn't you. It isn't you . . ., etc

Sudanow is the longest serving English speaking magazine in the Sudan. It is chartarized by its high quality professional journalism, focusing on political, social, economic, cultural and sport developments in the Sudan. Sudanow provides in depth analysis of these developments by academia, highly ...


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