Game of Sáhbi Iddi Zãiat:
Some Parallels and Analogues

Paul Brewster

"Communications", Hesperis, 42, (1), 1955, 239-244

Note: Due to limitations imposed by HTML, certain alphabetical symbols appearing in the original text are not included in this copy.

[Page 239] Writing in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the Reverend William Watt, a Presbyterian missionary stationed in the New Hebrides, commented regarding the games which he had collected there: "Many are played chiefly at certain seasons of the year, as was our own custom in Scotland. We have been astonished to see how many of the Tannese games resemble closely games played at home." As illustrative of this resemblance he then cites such games as hide and seek, tag, base, and tug-of-war.

No longer are we even mildly surprised to find the same games being played in Ethiopia and Ecuador, in Liberia and Lithuania, in Tanganyika and Tibet. Particularly is this true if the game in question is one of the simpler ones mentioned above. On the other hand, in the case of a game such as the one to be discussed, in which both mental and physical alertness are prime requisites, the finding of close parallels in widely separated parts of the world and among peoples of widely differing cultures and stages of civilization presents us with an interesting problem. If we could accept the theory of polygenesis; which we can hardly do and certainly not in toto, accounting for the extremely wide range of games like tag, hide and seek, and base, could we quote it to account also for the recurrence, over a somewhat more limited area, of games of a more sophisticated type; or are the diffusionists correct in assuming, first, a definite point of origin for each game and, second, the dissemination of it across geographical, cultural, linguistic, and other barriers? But any attempt at an answer or even a discussion of the problem is within neither the compass nor the intent of the present paper, which is purely expository.

Sáhbi iddi zãiat (Friend, my hand is tired) is a forfeit or penalty game in which the player is penalized for slowness in thinking or in speaking. In Morocco it is played as follows: The players, an even number but not fewer than four form a circle. Each has as his partner the player directly opposite him. One of the players picks up some object (basin, lantern, stone, etc.) and, addressing his partner, says, "Friend, my hand is tired", to which the other replies, "Hurry and call for assistance". The first then continues, "This load, who shall carry [Page240] it?" At this his partner designates a third player, saying, "So and so shall carry it". The one designated does not speak, but his partner immediately calls out, "My comrade shall not carry it!" Then the one holding the object asks, "Who shall carry it?" and the other answers, "So and so", indicating still another player. This continues until someone makes a mistake.

It is counted a mistake if (1) a player designates his partner as carrier, (2) he replies when designated instead of letting his partner speak for him, (3) he forgets to defend his partner when the latter has been designated. The player who makes a mistake must act as carrier, and another object is added for each error made. The game goes on until the number of objects is too great to be held.1

In a form of the game reported from Algeria there must be at least six pairs of players. The game goes on until each of the twelve or more players has answered for his partner.2

Perhaps the closest European parallel is the Greek game called "The Man with a Burden", which is played in the following manner. Each player, even the leader, has a partner. Partners exchange names, John becoming Paul for the time being, and vice versa. Then all form a circle, or rather two concentric circles, and one partner standing in front of the other. In the center is a fairly large stone. Pointing to it, the leader says to his partner, "Isn't it too bad that the earth must bear so heavy a burden?" The other replies, "It is too bad, but who would be able to carry it?" "John could do it", answers the leader. Then the player who is at the moment bearing this name must counter quickly with "Why should John do it?" "Who should do it then?" demands the leader. "Peter should carry it", answers the other. Then Peter's partner must reply, naming someone else in the circle. If the real possessor of the name answers when it is called or if a player does not respond when his partner's name is mentioned, he must pick up the stone and carry it until another player makes a mistake. The exchanging of names of course makes it necessary for players to be even more alert than in the game previously described.3

In the Haitian Khin Guésou (untranslatable) we have again a game in which each of the players has a partner, but here each is given the name of a flower. The Maîlre stands in the center and addresses various ones of the players, who are arranged in a circle. The following specimen of the dialogue will indicate the similarity between this game and the others.

Le Maître - Fleur Jasmin!
Jasmin - Plaît-it!
Le Maître – Oú dansez-vous?
Jasmin - Chez Rose.
A ce moment, Rose répond - Plaît-it!
Le Maître - Oû dansez-vous?
Rose - Chez Laurier.

[Page 241] From time to time the Maître interrupts the game in order to collect forfeits from players who have made mistakes. Forfeits must be given for failure to respond immediately to one's name and to name the partner in turn and also, for mentioning the name of a flower which has not been assigned.

The Maîlre frequently attempts to confuse the others by addressing them very rapidly, thus allowing them no time to think.4

In Sweden also the game (Stjälä Hö) is played by a large number of children, each of whom has a partner. All the players are seated in a circle, with the questioner in the center.5

It will have been noted that up to this point the games described have been those in which a group of Players is divided into pairs. There is, however, another form of this forfeit game in which players play as individuals. The Jugoslav Gospod kapucin je cepico zgubil is typical. Players seat themselves in a circle, and the interrogator takes his position in the center. Each player has previously chosen a name (this may be an object, a color, a number, etc.), which he is required to make public. The boy in the center now announces that the priest has lost his cap, and accuses one of the others of having found and kept it. Then follows this dialogue:

"Who? I?"
"Yes, you."
"Never l"
"Who then?"
"Blue" (or red, green, three, five, etc.)

For each mistake the unlucky player must pay a forfeit. The game continues until each has a forfeit to redeem.6

The Roumanian De-a florile (Game of Flowers), which at first glance seems to resemble the Haitian, also belongs to this form of the game. The leader assigns to each boy and girl (the game is usually played by a mixed group) the name of a flower. The leader and the entire group of players then carry on the following dialogue, the leader supplying the name of the flower.

Ah, mã doare!- - - -Oh, it's aching!
Ce te doare? - - - -What is aching?
Inima.- - - -The heart.
Dupã cine?- - - -For whom?
Dupã- - - - -For (rose. violet. lily. etc.)

The child bearing the name of the flower mentioned must now carry on the dialogue with the leader; giving at the end of it the name of another flower. If he makes a mistake, he must give the leader a forfeit. At the end of the game the leader hides each forfeit, then produces one at a time and asks the other players what the owner must do to redeem it. The others pronounce a punishment, and the one to whom the forfeit belongs must do what they say.7

[Page 242] In the Flemish game Hovenierke the leader gives to each of the others the name of a plant.8 Names of flowers are used in Filipino and Porto Rican variants.9

In "The Pumpkin Vine", played throughout Greece by both boys and girls, several players (usually eight or ten) form a circle and designate a leader, who takes his place with them. Each player, with the exception of the leader, takes a number. The child on the leader's left takes the number 1, the player next to him the number 2, and so on around the circle.10 Each must listen attentively for his number to be called, for his success or his failure hinges upon alertness.

The leader says first, "I have a pumpkin vine which bears three little pumpkins". As soon as, he says this, the player having the number 3 must rise and reply, "Why does it have to bear three?" The leader then asks, "How many do you want?" and the other answers, "I want it to bear five". Hearing his number, the player who is 5 rises and asks, "Why does it have to bear five?" and the game continues in this manner. If one of the players speaks without giving his own number or forgets to reply as soon as his number is mentioned or if he calls out a number which no one has, he is required to pay a forfeit. The leader takes all these forfeits and conceals them. As soon as the game is over, he pulls out one and shows it to the others, asking, "What shall this one do?" The other players reply, "Bray like a donkey" (or "Crow like a rooster"). This goes on until all the forfeits have been redeemed.11

In "Sparrow, Sparrow", a variant from the Ionian Isles, each player takes the name of a tree (almond, fig, olive, citron, etc.) They seat themselves in a semicircle and the leader stands facing them. He calls out quickly, "Where is the sparrow perched? He is perched on the almond tree!" The player who is the almond tree must then rise immediately and reply, "He is not perched on the almond tree." "Where is he perched then?" asks the leader. "He is perched on the olive tree!" The player whose name has just been mentioned now jumps up quickly and retorts, "He is not on the olive tree!" and the game continues in this way. Any player making a mistake is marked with a bit of charcoal and at the end of the game all those who are so marked have to pay some kind of penalty.12

In the, Scottish game "The Parson's Mare has gone Missing" each player is given a name, the more ridiculous the better (big-bellied merchant, thievish parson, old cow's tail, etc.) The leader then announces that the parson's mare [Page243] is missing." "I accuse one of the other players of having stolen her." The accused player denies the theft and in reply to the leader's "Who stole her then?" gives the name of another child in the game. This continues until one of the group makes a mistake, whereupon the leader collects a forfeit from him. Then a player who acts as judge hides his face upon the leader's knee and pronounces sentence.13

The game is played under various names by English-speaking children: "The Prince of Paris", " Priest of the Parish", " Master and Boy", " Daddy Red Cap", etc, The usual game in the United States seems to be "The Priest Has Lost His Cap". The game is played as follows: One of the players is the "priest". Each of the others takes a name such as Blue Cap, Yellow Cap, Red Cap, etc. The "priest" addresses one of them saying "The priest has lost his cap. Have you seen it?" to which the player addressed replies with the question, "Me, sir?" The first player says, "Yes, you, sir". "Not I, sir", retorts the other, and to the question "Who then, sir", "says Blue Cap, sir". At this moment the "priest" begins counting aloud. If he counts to ten before Blue Cap speaks to defend himself from the charge, the latter must pay a forfeit.14

In another American form of the game, "Who, Sir? Me, Sir" a player who makes a mistake is sent to the end of the line. The goal is the first player's chair, the one at the head of the line.15

The German game, Der Abt von St. Gallen, introduces a new element, the passing of a ball from one player to another. Players, bearing the names of colors, seat themselves in a circle, with the leader in the center. One of the players holds the ball. The "Abbot" calls out, "The Abbot of St. Gallen has lost his nightcap", and accuses "White" of having it. If the latter does not have the ball, he replies, "White doesn't have it; Red has it". "Red" must then in his turn call the name of another player. All this time the ball, which represents the missing nightcap, is being passed secretly from hand to hand. If a player does not speak quickly enough or if he is caught with the ball in his possession, he has to give a forfeit. If, after nine guesses, the "Abbot" does not succeed in finding the ball, he must run the gauntlet, the others beating him with knotted handkerchiefs.16

Other descriptions of the game in both its forms (partners and individual players) are to be found in Gets Muths p. 365; Van Gennep, p. 648 (Le Corbillon); Douglas, p. 83 ; Strutt p. 313 ; Arwidsson, III, 395 ; Skallegraveren, II, No. 260; Newell; pp. 145; Kristensen, No. 3099 ff. ; Brown Collection, I, 69 ; Beckwith, p. 13.


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  • DESPARMET, J. Coulumes, institutions, oryances des indigèmes de l' Algérie (traduction annotée par Henri Pérès, et H. Bousquet), I. Alger, 1939.
  • DOUGLAS, Norman. London Street Games. London, 1931.
  • GOMME, Alice B. The Traditional Games of England, Scottland, and Ireland. 2 v. , London, 1894-98.
  • GUTS MUTHS, Johann Chris. Spiele zur Übung und Erholunq des Körpors und Geisles. 8th ed. Leipzig, 1893.
  • KRISTENSEN, E. T. Deneke Börncrim, Remser, og Lege. Ärhus, 1896.
  • KURET, Niko. Veselja dom, igre igre razvedrila v druzini. Ljubljana, 1942.
  • MACLAGAN, Robert Craig. The Games and Diversions of Argyleshire. London, 1901.
  • MARTINEZ, Maria Cadilia de Juegos y Canciones lnfantiles de Puerto Rico. San Juan, 1940.
  • NEWELL, W.W. Games and Songs of American Children. New York, 1911.
  • PAUL, Emmanuel C. "Les jeux à gage" Bulletin du Bureau d' Elhnoloqie (Port-au-Prince), Series II, 3 (Juilet, 1947), 50-60.
  • REYES, Francisca S., and Petrona RAMOS. Philippine Folk Dances and Games. New York, 1927.
  • ROCHHOLZ, Ernst Ludwig. Alemannisches Kinderlied u Kindersplel. Leipzig, 1857.
  • SÄVE, P., Golländska Lekar (ed. Herbert, Gustavson). Stockholm: Kungl. Gustav Adolfs Akademien, 1948.
  • Skallegraveren, El Tidsskrifl... Kolding, 1884.
  • STRUTT, Joseph. The Sports and Pastimes of The People of England (new ed. by Charles Cox). London, 1903.
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  • ZURICHER,Gertrud, Kinderlied und Kinderspi.


  1. Brunot, p, 315.
  2. Desparmet, pp. 60-61.
  3. For the description of this game I am indebted to the kindness of Miss Georgia Tarsouli. of Athens.
  4. Paul, pp. 50-51.
  5. Sãve, p. 101, No. 137.
  6. Kuret, p. 94.
  7. This description was kindly furnished me by Miss Valerica Osoianu, of Iasi.
  8. Lievevrouw, p. 97.
  9. Reyes and Ramos, p. 66; Martinez, p. 247 (Las Flores).
  10. Players do not necessarily have to be numbered consecutively. A player may choose any number he likes, provided that the number chosen is not larger than the total number of players participating.
  11. Communicated by Miss Tarsouli. For a Chois version of the game, see Argenti-Rose, II, 1012, where it is called H Koλxuσα (The Marrow Plant).
  12. Communicated by Miss Tarsouli. There is a marked resemblance between this and the Filipino game mentioned above. In the latter the "king" gives each player the name of a flower. Then he says, "The butterfly of the king flies and stops at (name of flower)". The player named replies, "It is not here" and the first speaker asks, "Where is it?" The other then answers, "It is on (name of another flower) ". This continues around the circle, and each player who makes a mistake deposits a forfeit, which must be redeemed at the close of the game.
  13. Maclagan, pp. 115-116. "Mother Macpherson's Ring" (p. 118) is a curious mixture of this game and "Thimble".
  14. Brewster, pp. 26-28. In a fragmentary description from England, the players are also Yellow Cap, Green Cap, Brown Cap, etc.; see Gomme, I, 301.
  15. Brewster, pp. 28-29.
  16. Böhme p. 637; Rocholz, p. 440. The same game is played in Switzerland; see Zurigher, No. 1045. Gomme (I, 301) gives a rather confused description. A player accused of having the Cardinal's Hat quickly hands or Losses the ball to another. The dialogue is essentially the same as that in the German game. Anyone hit by the ball must chase and capture one of the other players, who then becomes questioner.

Last update August 5, 2010