Text by Avner Pariat
In the early part of 2015 (April 30th) Khyndailad Film Club (KFC-Shillong), with financial assistance from the Directorate of Sports and Youth Affairs, Government of Meghalaya, conducted a cultural ‘experiment’ at Pahambir, Ri-Bhoi district. INDIGIGAMES 2015 was a one-of-a-kind attempt at re-living and, crucially, re-imagining the old past-times that were once enjoyed in the Khasi-Jaintia Hills. Football, cricket and others have essentially displaced the older sports/games which were customarily played by a large number of people, especially in the rural areas. Taking a cue from similar events throughout the country and the region, KFC Shillong developed a plan for reviving – without ‘jingoism’ – the much loved but forgotten “indigenous” games of Ri Bhoi district.
In a novel way, INDIGIGAMES 2015 celebrated value and beauty of their old “arts”. In the old days, many of the games, were never just “child’s play” but actual training for combat and physical endurance. By highlighting them, it is hoped that more people would once again start participating in and sustaining an interest in these forms. While it was not given the big budget money or publicity like other “indigenous” festivals, INDIGIGAMES 2015 managed to do something more important – bringing together the local village communities and having some fun in the sun!
This game has various versions. Sometimes pebbles, cowries, or small bric-brac are used instead of sticks. It involves tossing the sticks up in the air and catching a stipulated number using the same hand. The winner is the one who manages to grasp the correct number of sticks each time.
This game is a variant of tug’ o war. However, instead of using rope, a stout piece of bamboo is used. The participants sit down on a large mat and when the signal is given, each must try to pull the other up and over. The winner is the one who drags his/her opponent onto his/her side of the mat.
This game/exercise tests upper body and abdominal strength. Participants have to grasp a crossbeam firmly, lift themselves off the ground and bring their feet up and in between their arms. They have to repeat this as many times as possibly without letting their feet re-touch the ground. The winner is the one who does the most number of turns.
Known by many names, in various parts of the world, pom latom or spinning top fights were a common sight in the neighbourhoods. The winner is the one who manages to ‘kick’ the others out of the circle (or, cruelly, destroys all the other tops!)
Once very popular with local children, this game holds a special place in the hearts of many adults. It is basically like ‘dodgeball’ but with the added difficulty of having to raise up a “pyramid” of stones (in this case planks) whilst running from the opponents. This is a lovely mixed-sex team-emphatic sport; a person is considered ‘out’ if he/she is hit on anywhere but the head though rules might differ. The winner is the team that manages to raise the pyramid and gets all the opposing team members ‘out’ as well. This game must surely be introduced into schools and colleges!
This game is a sprint/dash event but with the added condition that one needs to bring back a small stone from the opposite end of the field. This continues, back and forth, until all the stones from one end have been deposited at the starting point. It tests not only speed but endurance as well.
This game was a popular past-time among the cattle herders of Ri Bhoi. It is a rather complicated game associated deeply with the folklore of the area. It is played using nup, large seeds that are found in a certain jungle tree pod. It is similar to the ‘shooting’ games played with round marbles but has certain conditions which have to be fulfilled such as using certain parts of the body to fling the nup forward. The winner is the one who fulfills all conditions and is able to ‘shoot’ his rivals’ seeds down as well.
Don’t be bamboozled by the name. Here’s a more familiar game – a sprint but on stilts!
We named this event the “triathlon” (for lack of a better word) because it comprises three separate games put together. The first game is a puzzle – kyrwoh – which needs to be unlocked before a participant can proceed to the next stage. The second obstacle an opponent must overcome is a reaching the top of a greased bamboo pole. Finally, they have to strike a straw target once with arrows fired from a bamboo crossbow. The winner is the one who completes all three events in the least amount of time.
Bah Rani Maring, a local farmer and artisan from Pahambir, built and equipped all the “gear” (games and otherwise) for INDIGIGAMES 2015. He makes everything almost exclusively with bamboo, these include the spinning toys and swing sets. In addition, he also crafts a number of musical instruments like the bom (drum) and duitara (stringed instrument)