The Nubian Folklore Games in North Sudan

By: Aisha Braima

Khartoum (Sudanow) How blissful, cheerful, thrilling, illustrious and memorable the innocent childhood days are with nothing of concern except playing around and chasing domestic animals, tirelessly grazing them in the valleys and wandering with them on the sand beside rivers, water sources and grass-lands.
Those activities are punctuated with various games played jointly by boys and girls and others enjoyed separately, some of them have died out and others are close to extinction either due to civilization or replaced by modern games or due to changes in activities practiced by children.
The games vary according to the timing (daytime and nighttime) season (spring, summer, winter, autumn) of to the age- some for minors and others for adults.
The folklore games consolidate the social bonds and instill intimacy among the neighborly children and youths and help them pass joyous times of entertainment, despite the existence of facilities of modern entertainment. Moreover, those games conserve the heritage from extinction as it is a legacy that must be preserved.
There are games shared by the majority of the world’s children or at least in one continent, or one region or one country of multiple cultures like the Sudan. The children nowadays have numerous and diverse kinds of games provided by the modern technologies either on website or on the ground. A common denominator among all children world-wide can be found in the folklore games which, although differing in names or some details, they all reflect the social values the society is careful to maintain because they contain many objective educational principles.
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Only recently, that is, before introduction of the electronic games, most children used to play folklore games on the streets of the residential quarters, open grounds, public parks, fields and farms, after they are discharged from schools and during vacations and festivals. Almost none of these places is free of children practicing their beloved games and the Sudan, like other countries of diverse cultures, is rich in deep-rooted folklore game, particularly in the northern regions, especially in the Nuba region which is inhabited by the Fidaigah ethnicity that comprises the Mahas, Sukkot and Halfawis and the Danaglah ethnicity which includes the Andan and Ashkar or the Kunuz.
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In this region there is the Handaki game (Shaddah in Arabic) which moved to other regions and in which the child shows off his physical power, sustenance of exhaustion and resistance of others by maintaining inactive the right arm and left leg or vice versa, depending on the child’s ability to use either way. For further explanation, the child holds his left toes with the fingers of his right hand or the toes of his right foot with the fingers of his left hand so that he can stand on one leg and use one hand for wrestling with another child of a similar posture. The defeated child will be the one who releases his toes before the other wrestler who will be the winner. This game is often practiced by two groups each with a leader who is responsible for finding the tactics and strategies and directs the members of his group on how to win the game. Usually the group which comprises strong members fights against a group similar in strength. Sometimes, several individuals attack one individual of the other group who appears invincible for one member of the opposite group. In this case, the attacked individual has to have a cover-up to avoid being attacked from behind, but in most cases he surrenders and the game restarts. It is enjoyable and interesting to see one wrestler chasing another to force him into untying his toes but he may find it difficult to reach this goal because the chased wrestler will be holding his toes very fast. Both wrestlers may get exhausted and cease trying to have one release his toes and in this case they tie. It is advisable for the wrestler in this game to take off his garment and keep only his underwear on him so that his garment is not torn and also not to give his opponent grab him by the clothes and, yet another reason, to keep his clothes clean to avoid being reprimanded back home.


Another game is Qaser Kede (in Sudanese colloquial Arabic called Shilail) which is played only at night when the moon is high. It played by young boys with an old bone with no sharp edges to avoid wounds, all the children stand in a row and one of them fling the bone as far as he can and his fellows run in search of it. The one who finds it makes a certain sound and quickly runs to a previously designated spot and if he is caught before reaching that spot, it means he has failed and the game starts again.
It may be said why those games are considered Nubian while they have Arabic names and are practiced by other tribes. This argument can be answered by questioning which language is the older and which practice is the older, both date and venue. It is certain that the Nubian existence is the older and so is the Nubian game and having a Nubian named implies that it is it is of a Nubian origin, although some research is required to find out whether those games are of an international or a Nubian origin like what has occurred for the bubbles game which is practiced during winter when the Nubian children take shelter against the wall from the cold. Each of them holds a small can of sauce full of water with soap, inserts a dry hollow piece of wheat cane, takes it out and blows slowly emitting bubbles of all sizes and colors like the rainbow. This ancient game has now been developed, introducing to it wonderful modern techniques, rendering it incomparable with the old game. This shows the possibility of modernizing games which have not yet been subjected to technology. There are numerous beautiful games which can be more beautiful if someone works for their development and modernization.
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Then there is yet another Nubian gamed called Djko, the first letter of which is not found in the Arabic language. The elements of this game consist of a rubber ball as big as the tennis ball and a big stone used as a racket. A straight line and drawn on the ground and the racket if placed opposite the middle of the line a few meters away from it to allow for maneuvering by the first group which, according to the toss, starts the game. The second group stands on the other end of the line before the five-round game begins. Each round differs from, but is linked to the preceding one. In the first round one of the members of the first group stands facing the stone and his back towards the second group whose members are standing on spaces from each other. The member of the first group holds the ball in his left hand raises and forcefully strikes it backwards with his right hand towards the members of the second group who each tries to catch the ball before falling on the ground. If the ball is not caught, the round is over and the second one round starts but If the ball is caught, the groups change places and the second group starts shooting. In the second round, the chosen member of the first group faces the other group from the same spot and strikes the ball more forcefully towards the members of the second group who try to catch the ball. But this time, as he faces rivals, the striker can throw the ball away from their hands.

In the third round, the striker uses his foot to kick the ball forcefully in the direction he chooses. This round is the most difficult one as it is hard to catch the small ball which is powerfully kicked with the foot. If the first group manages to pass through the rounds successfully it is considered the winner, otherwise, the second group will be the winner and the winner will be crowned.
There is another game called ‘Foad Demy’ which means ‘holding the navel’. This game, due to the gender sensitivity of the navel, is played by female girls, not shared by boys. The girls sit down on the ground in parallel rows behind each other. One girl holds a wrapped piece of cloth in a way that no part of it is seen accompanied by a second empty-handed girl. Each one of the sitting girls is asked to interlock her hands on her navel and the girl hides the piece of cloth between the folded hands on the navel. The hidden cloth has to be detected by accompanying girl who has been watching the movement of the first girl as well as the expressions on the faces of the sitting girls. If she succeeds in finding the cloth, the second girls assume the role of the first one and so on.

Yet another game is the ‘Mall’ which means wrestling which is more common in northern-most Sudan and the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan. This game has faded in the north whereas it is still vivid in the Nuba Mountains, although it has its origin in the north, standing as one argument in a research on the unity of origin of the Nubians in the north and in the Nuba Mountains.
The game is played in an arena surrounded by a group of onlookers and the wrestlers begin to fight until one succeeds in throwing the other one with his entire back flat on the ground and is applauded as the winner.
Now the question is can these games be revived for conservation of the heritage and unification of the emotion as a game may serve as a factor that is more effective than politics in bringing different factions together and unifying the ranks.

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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