While there is a surge in modern knowledge owing to research in all disciplines, traditional or indigenous knowledge owned and practiced in certain pockets of the world is in danger of extinction, being as it is still largely oral and also due to the lack of interest among the younger generation in propagating such valuable knowledge. Along with other categories of indigenous knowledge and practices, many indigenous games are also losing their significance , owing to the same problems mentioned above. Only a few groups, particularly those based in rural areas still faithfully indulge in such games. Considering the many benefits of indigenous games, such as for example, their contribution to physical and mental health as well as their low cost, this work attempts to document the indigenous games that were and are prevalent with a tribal community in the North Eastern region of India.
Indigenous games are recreational activities that originated from a particular cultural group, community or people. These games are different from mainstream sports, which are regulated by international federations, and have fixed rules. Conversely, indigenous games do not have internationally regulated rules for implementation; local organisers determine these according to the customs of the local participants. This creates many different versions of the same game. Indigenous games are a very important part of a people’s heritage and culture. They preserve age-old traditions and stories of the people group. (Ndiko, 2018)
According to Farreira (2014) "Indigenous games are part of the symbolic patrimonial heritage of indigenous peoples. Accounts of the first voyagers and missionaries in the 16th century described how games were part of sacred ceremonies and rituals, which involve tension and excitement. In numerous accounts and interviews about games that are still being practiced today, we can note characteristics related to time: the games represent a break in everyday activities and point back to a mythical time, with a union between the individual and the cosmos, moments of transformation, a passage from one state to another, and emotions, such as pleasure, joy, sadness, pain, fear, anger and triumph. It is important to reinforce the idea that indigenous time is based on a different paradigm, which is cosmological and seasonal. Many rituals and games were forced into oblivion and disappeared. The effects of globalization and the distancing of today’s people from their ancestors’ traditions are also harmful to the preservation of traditional games.
Significance of Indigenous games in India
The history of traditional games in India is very ancient and with its origin in early Vedic era (2000-1000 B.C.). Games have been an important part of Indian culture endlessly right from their origin. India is considered as a place of origin for a number of traditional games which are well-known throughout the world in present time. A number of leading traditional games which had Indian origin are Teerandaji, kabbadi, kho-kho, Polo, shatranj, and Martial Art etc. All these games require technical and tactical skills along-with other physiological components like speed, strength, stamina, agility and coordinative abilities. Apart from this, traditional games require very little equipment and they are less expensive in comparison to the modern games, and as a result traditional games of Indian origin became more popular amongst the masses. (Gulia, and Dhauta, 2019)
Meghalaya, a state in the North Eastern Region of India, is basically made up of the three distinct ethnic communities called the Khasis, the Jaintias and the Garos along with smaller sub groups. Meghalaya is rich in traditional knowledge and best practices practised by indigenous tribes in which many of them are of old age traditions. Many of these knowledge and practices were closely related to their livelihood. With modern technology especially in agriculture, such practices are gradually depleting from the community. Indigenous practices are still being followed in some of the everyday activities of the tribes in Meghalaya. These include agricultural, food and health indigenous practices. Indigenous sports and games have been played in Meghalaya for centuries now, some have been lost to oblivion due to the negligence of the indigenous practitioners themselves, while most of the urban folk have been taken captive by online games. Some of indigenous games are still being played, but mostly by the rural folk, especially rural children.
Different games were played in different parts of the Khasi Hills. Some of the games played by children have common methods and rules while the names of the games are different. Sometimes the name of the games may be identical while the way of playing is different, that is, the rules and the constraint are different in some places of the Khasi hills. The most popular games that are played till today are the games called “mawpoin”, “mawkynting”, and “siat khnam”(archery also called “teer”).
A survey was carried out to understand the indigenous games of the region, the results of which are summarized below.
Some of the identified indigenous games that were/are popular in the Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya.
It is a type of game played by children of all ages (approx. below 16 years), though even adults can play the game. The game can be played both by male and female. The name “ mawpoin” has two meanings - ‘maw’ means stones or stone and ‘poin’ means the arrangement of stones one on top of the other, preferably the biggest one at the bottom most, which is followed by the bigger, big and the smaller till the smallest, and the other meaning of ‘poin’ could be a score. The game consists of two teams. The number of players and height of the arranged stones may vary from place to place, that is, it can be of any height as per the desire of the players. The shape of the collected stones consists of both flat and uneven stones.
Before the game starts, the players are divided into two teams. Then, stones are collected and arranged almost like a pyramid shape one on top of the other. Then a toss with a coin (or a small flat stone having different appearance both in front and at the back) is made. The team in which the desirable choice of the coin or small flat stone comes out, will begin the game by throwing a ball straight to the already arranged stones. In some places, one person will be standing on the middle of the bottom most stones and he/she will hit or throw the ball in any direction. The opposite team (opponent) will then try to catch the ball and try to throw on each person and not letting them to rearrange the stones. If a ball hits a person of the opposite team, then that person is no longer eligible to play, and is considered ‘dead’ from the team. In some places, a ball is allowed to hit anywhere, but in some, a rule is made that only the hand or the head if get hit, a person can still play and continue the game, that means he/she is not out. The game will end in two ways; either when all the stones are completely rearranged or either when all the players has been hit by the ball, and the team will win and lose respectively. In this way Mawpoin is an interesting and most popular indigenous game that is still played by children of all age groups and even by adults.
Different places have different names for this type of game - Mawkynting, Mawkhalai, Mawsan, Mawdot. It is a type of game which is usually played with five stones. The number of players varies (that is it can be above two). Five stones of similar shape (mostly oval) are collected.
The game consists of three main steps;
One of the rules or conditions in this game is that if a player forgets their previous step, in the next round, they can go for a condition called a “truh” where a player is free to lift the stones depending upon their desire, but they should lift not less than two stones. After this, the player will again have to lift all the 5 stones and let them fall on the palm (outward) and then throw the stones up and try to catch them with their fingers. Mawkynting is one of the famous indigenous games which are played by children and even adults in the Khasi Hills of Meghalaya. However many children in the urban area have forgotten the rules and constraint of the game.
This game is mostly played by male children of Khasi Hills. “Pynshad” means “to spin” and latom means “ top”. So the game is about spinning the top and who can stop or topple the spinning top. It is an individual game where the players compete with each other. The top is made from a piece of wood with a nail protruding from the middle of the top. A thread is twirled around the top and pulled out to release the top.
First of all the players gather together along with their tops or latom, with the aim of destroying the spinning top of the other player. A big circle is drawn for spinning the top. Then the players will decide who will spin the top first. Once the first player starts spinning the top, the others will quickly spin their tops too, by throwing towards the previous top in order to disrupt its spin. The first player will have to protect his top by quickly pulling the top away with the thread. The game will continue and end when there are only two players left who will be fighting amongst each other until one wins.
Rules and constraints:
This game was known to be popular in the past ten years.
This is a type of indigenous game mostly played by male children. “Kawang” means to throw and “mawpyllon” are small round marbles which are made of clay. Thus the game is about playing with these clay marbles. The number of players can be up to 5. Before the game starts, the players will bet among them on how many marbles they will have to throw and how many to give to the winner. Then a circular hole is made on the ground. And a mark is made which acts as the boundary for throwing. The player who gets to play first will begin the game by throwing the marbles, if the bet was about throwing two marbles, then that player will have to throw two marbles gently to the hole. If both the marbles get inside the hole, then that is taken as null, that is, the player will have to throw the stones again. If one marble gets to the hole and the other lands outside anywhere on the ground, then the second player will gently throw his two marbles to the hole. If his two marbles get inside the hole, he will have to throw towards the marble of the first player which lies outside the hole. If he can let his marble collide with the marble of that first player, he wins the game. If not, the game will be continued by the third player and so on. If any player wins the others will have to pay him with marbles depending on the bet made earlier. In this way, this game was played in the past, and known to be popular among children in Khasi Hills.
This is like a tug of war game that is played around the world, however it was called indigenous game because the way the game is played is different and it goes along with a song.
Before the tug of war begins, leaders of the two opposing teams are chosen, either king or queen who will be the leaders of the two teams. These will in turn act as gates or barrier of their respective teams. After being chosen, the two leaders will then join their hands upward in an arch and start singing the game’s song, and the other children will enter through this arch in queue. Once the song is over, the leaders will catch the last person who is stuck in between them. The song will be sung for many rounds till all the children have chosen sides. Then the leaders will ask each player to choose between the leaders. Once that is done, the player will have to go to the side of their team. This process will go on till all the player get the chance to choose sides. Then the tug of war begins. They will either pull each others’ hands or a rope.
The song sung for choosing participants goes like this
La di-kut u sai tyllai,
Mon la ka mon ka herimai
La dkut la dkut u sai tyllai ban bteng d’u ba thymmai;
Lah ka ksiar ne ka rupa,
Mon sha I ne mon sha nga
La dkut la dkut u sai tyllai ban bteng d’u ba thymmai.
Du du du du du du du du…dam!
This game is mostly played by female children of all ages. The game is similar to sports like high jump etc. however the rules and way of playing are different. Till today, this game is still played by children in most places of the Khasi Hills. This game involves physical strength, where all the levels involve movement of parts of the body. The raw material used are small rubber bands which are tied/joined together to form a long string.
The game begins by dividing the players into teams ( the number of teams varies, it depends upon the decision of the players). The team that wins the toss will get to play first. The game however can be played individually also. As long as there is a rubber string. The game is divided into different levels and each level, all the player will have to perform and finish smoothly. A rubber is tied to walls or poles, from one end to the other end. The height of the string is increased as the game progresses The following are the levels of the game.
Rules and constraints of the game:
This game is still played by children in schools, village play grounds and so on.
Hai-iu can be played both by male and female children but is mostly played by female children. In some places this game is still common but played irregularly. The game consists of two rounds. In this game, the players will have to make a sound while holding their breath and chasing the opponents.
The game begins by dividing the players into two teams. A circle is drawn which acts as a home or safer place or a boundary for the team which will have to chase. The team that wins the toss will begin the game by chasing the opposing team. Before chasing, the team who will chase will make different names for the player (like apple for one player, mango for the other etc..) then they will ask the opponent to choose among the options of names given. Once the opponent team chooses any of the players, that player will then chase the members of the opposite team by making the sound “hai…….uuuuuu……” while holding their breath. The game will end in two ways; either all the players of one team will get the chance to chase members of the other team or they are defeated or ‘dead’.
Rules and constraints of the game
This is similar to hide and seek game. Laleh means to play and iarieh/ialuh means to hide. The game is about hiding and seeking between players who are in the game. The game begins by deciding who will hide and who will seek. Once the seeker will close their eyes and count while the other player/s will then hide. Once the others are ready, the seeking process begins. The game will end when all the players get caught. The one who got caught first will then continue the game by seeking. The game will finally end when the players decide.
This is also one of the popular games played in the olden times. This type of game was played during a family visit, or family reunion, and even among children in the neighbourhood. This game can be played by both male and female though female children prefer to play this kind of game.
This game involved a kind of role playing. In other words children who participated in the game took up their own character such as that of a mother, a father, a son/daughter and as friend and so on, depending on the number of participants. The game has the various characters involving in daily household and professional activities like cooking, attending occasions like birthday party or wedding etc. as per the decision of the participant in the game. While playing, most children use raw materials like clothes, stones, sand, water, leaves, flowers and anything that is easy to get from mother earth.
This type of game isplayed in two ways. One way isplaying in a group and the other individually. Today, the game is not so common.
It is a type of indigenous game mostly played by female children and teenagers (approx. 16 years below). “lehkai bol” means playing with a ball and “mawjyngkieng” means steps or staircases. Till today, this type of game is still played by children in some of the places of Khasi Hills District. This game involves strength and movement of the hands. The number of players may vary. The raw materials used are any kind of ball (i.e either a plastic ball or a rubber ball ) and steps/stairs. This type of game, children are likely to play in schools or places where steps/stairs existed. The game is about bouncing the ball on each step.
The following are the rules and constraints of the game:
In some places, children continue the game by catching the bouncing ball with only one hand from the first step right up to the top.
This game is mostly played by children above 9 -10 years. This game was mostly played by male children. “puh syiar” means chicken fight. It is so called because the way of playing resembles a chicken fight. This game was mostly popular in the olden times, however today few people still remember the game and the way it was played. There are no specific number of players for playing the game. The more the number of players, the more fun the game. This game was about fighting against each other by pushing with one side of the shoulder.
Rules and constraints
A game mostly played by children of all ages (approx. above 12 years), “bsiat” means to strike and “shyiengsohkyntoi” means a tamarind seed. In this kind of indigenous game, children used tamarind seeds as tools/toys for playing. The game began by spreading of the tamarind seeds on the flat surface (ground). Then children used their last finger to cross between the seeds as if making a line between them, and strike the seeds. The process continued till all seeds got struck. Once striking was done, the next step was to lift the seed into the back of the palm and calculate the number of seeds that fall on the back of the palm.
Rules and constraints
This game required space so as to draw the kinds of tables/ blocks for playing.
In this type of game, Children used flat stones as a material for playing. The game was about jumping on the drawn tables/blocks with one leg lifted. The game begins by deciding who will get to play in the first round. Then a table isdrawn and divided into two columns. The tables/blocks are numbered (1,2,3…and so on). In the first step, each child throws their stone on the first block on one side of the table. Then they hopped on the each block on the other side of the table, coming round to the side where the stone has been placed. Once they reach that stone they stamp on the stone and kick it outside the table. In some case they again stamp on the stone outside the table. Once this is finished, children throw the stone on the second block of the table and the process goes on till all the boxes/rows in the table are covered.
Rules and constraints
Dienghai/Diengkhun was common in the Khasi Hills in the olden times. Both male and female play the game. But mostly boys were fond of playing this game as it involved physical strength.
“Dieng” has many meanings; it can be a whole tree or a branch of a tree or even a wood, “hai” means to chase, “Khun” has two meanings; one could be an offspring and the other meaning could be to steer. The raw material used were branch/ branches of tree, or wood. The name of the game is so called, could be because of the material used or could be due to the process in which it was played.
Before the game starts, a somewhat rectangular hole was made on the ground. The hole measured about 10-15 cm. The players will then decide among them, who will get to play first. The first player will begin the game by putting the short/small piece of wood in between the hole so as to create a see saw like position. The player then touch the tip of the wood so as to make it lift upward, and then hit it with another long branch of tree/ piece of wood for 10-20 times as per the decision made among the players before playing. While hitting for the 2nd , 3rd , 4th ….20th time, the player will have to hit from the position where that branch previously fell down. Once the player completed hitting for the required times, he/she will have to come back to the previous position that is to the hole, by making a sound “ha….uuuuuuu” while holding his/her breath. If he/she is able to reach and fulfil the above criteria, he/she wins the game, if not, the other player will get a chance to play in the same process.
Both male and female children can play this game together. “Hut” is colloquial for shoot or kick, “kawang” means to throw and “tin” simply means tin. The number of players varies ( i.e it can be above 2). The game is similar to hide and seek. but in addition, children use a bottle to play with. This kind of game, children play outside the house and usually in the backyard.
The game begins like this - firstly all the players will come together, then they will decide among them who will seek the other players. Once a decision is made, a small circle is drawn and a bottle is put inside that small circle in front of the house. One among the players kicks the bottle, while the other players run to the backyard of the house/ building to hide. After he/she kicks the bottle he/she too runs as fast as he/she could to the backyard of the house to seek out the others. The seeker will then have to put back the bottle in the circle and begin seeking. If a seeker caught any of the players he/she will have to run back towards the bottle, to assure that he/she caught the player. In the process the player who got caught too will run as much as he/she could in order to kick back the bottle. If he/she failed to do so, then he/she is out. And the one who got caught in the first or last position will become a seeker. However if the player who got caught could manage to kick back the bottle then he/she is saved and gets the chance to hide again. That is, he/she would have to run again after he/she had kicked back the bottle. There is no specific ending to the game, however the game would end depending upon the desire of the players.
It is a kind of indigenous games played mostly by male children of all ages. The game was famous over the past recent years but is still played by children of villages. However the game is less popular in urban areas. The game is about playing with marbles. Marbles are small rounded beads. The game is played in two ways.
One way is called the “lehkai ia in” and the other way is called “lehkai thri sik”
“Lehkai ia in”
“Lehkai ia in” means to play with the use of the “in”. “In” means inside and the “in” is a rounded or rectangular drawn shape on the ground in which marbles are kept. Firstly the players decide for how many marbles they will be playing, once decided these marbles are clubbed together and kept inside the “in”. Then a line is drawn near the “in”. The players then strike their marbles (the one which are not inside the “in”) with their fingers and strike the marbles which are inside the ‘in.’. The marble which is nearer to the line, will be the first player to strike the “in”. once the player strikes the “in” he/she should make sure that the marbles inside the “in” and the marble which strike should not stay inside the “in”. if so, he/she is out from the game, but if he/she accomplished the task he gets the marbles.
“Lehkai thri sik”
“Thri” in context of the game means three, sik means six. This game is played in series. That is the marbles are struck for a number of series. The series goes like this, “three < six < nine < twelve < fif < eight < pass < pot”. The beginning of the game is similar to the above game.
Mostly teenagers of Khasi Hills district play this game. This game was mostly played by male children. “Pynher” means to fly and “kot kudi” means kite. Thus pynher kot kudi simply means flying of kites in the sky. It was one of the popular games in the Khasi hills in the olden times. This game was mostly played during spring season. This game involved skills and physical strength. It is in fact a common game in different parts of the world.
The game is about fighting between flying kites. The children used techniques on how to cut the kites of others in the sky through a thread. One of the common techniques was using the “manja” which in Khasi it is called the “khleh manja” where they used flour, powdered glass, rice etc. This paste is coated on the thread in order to make the thread sharp.
It is a type of indigenous archery which is still practiced in the Khasi Hills. However today it is known as “teer” as it involves legal betting. Before teer came into the picture, archery was known to be the most popular and enjoyable game among the Khasis, as many people who have trained themselves come from villages to take part in the game. It is an adult game. But to become archers, children were trained from their younger age on how to use “khnam”(arrow) and “ryntieh”(bow) to strike the target. The target is called the “skum”(made of dry leaves or grasses or straw).
Indigenous games, being such vital parts of the life of the indigenous people, it is important to document and preserve such games on an individual and corporate basis. The government , sports associations, religious groups and even academic institutions should hold programmes from time to time where these games can be played by children and also learn about the significance of these games. Libraries too can play a major role in preserving indigenous games. They can done so by identifying, collecting, preserving and disseminating such knowledge to the public. With today’s advanced technology, it becomes easier to preserve the indigenous knowledge on indigenous games. Libraries should collaborate with indigenous people in order to acquire, store and make indigenous knowledge accessible. They should also publicize the value and contribution of indigenous games to the indigenous as well as non indigenous people. Libraries should also collaborate with the government, to ensure that the government can provide fund for preserving indigenous knowledge.
Indigenous games, while being unique, also help children physically as well as mentally. Through such games, children unite with other children which in turn unites the community itself. However most children of today’s generation, are not aware about the existence of indigenous games of their communities, either because they were never taught about such games or because they don’t value the significance of such games or find online games to be more attractive.
Last Modified : 8/7/2023