Somoli Games of Calculation

G. Marin

[Page 503]The bulk of the following information was provided for me by my two friends Ibra·hin Ismā·įil, of the Re·r-hā·dzi (hinterland of ςadςaddo), Warsangeli tribe, speaking for the Da·ro·d So·ma·li, and įismā·n Dubbed, of the Re·r-įumar (Ada·dlej), Habar-gerhadzis tribe, speaking for the Issā·q So·ma·li.

1. fāh

This game is related to the old English "Nine Men's Morris" which was introduced into Europe by the Moors.

[Page 504] fāh might be termed the national game of Somali; men as well as children are passionately fond of it.

Figure 1

Three concentric squares are drawn on the ground, their sides being connected at their middle point by perpendicular (transversal) lines. Two distinctive sets of twelve stones are used instead of two sets of nine, as in the European variety. They are placed, one at a time, by the two players alternately. During this introductory stage there is no taking of pieces, but the one who is first able to place three of his stones in a straight connected line - this is called a dzāra (Issā·q) or dzāre (Da·ro·d), "halter of a horse" - secures the privilege of starting the game proper. If neither player manages to do this, it is the one who has placed the last stone who begins.

He first removes one of his opponent's stones at his choice, and the opponent does likewise. After this, the game becomes very similar to the old English game; the stones are shifted along the lines from one angle or intersection to a neighboring one which is vacant, and every time a dzāre is formed, it gives the right to remove anyone of the opponent's stones.

Should one of the players make it impossible for his opponent to move - which is called hādig (Issā·q) or hārig (Da·ro·d), "rope" - he must make an extra move to provide an opening, and cannot avail himself of any dzāre he might he making by this second move.

Jumping is unknown.

The one who draws the lines on the ground has the privilege of placing the first stone. Each subsequent game is started by the winner of the previous one.

Scores are kept in the following way: the winner of a game places in the central square a small stone, the size of a pea or a hazelnut, but of the same colour as his own pieces; should he win the next game, he places a second similar stone by the side of the first, and so on; but as soon as he loses a game, all his scoring stones are removed, and his opponent starts scoring. Four stones - i.e. four games won in unbroken succession - constitute a gal, "pool"; five stone make a gabad, "girl." The prize is usually a fictitious one, nowadays at any rate; but a man often "wins" his wife from a consenting father in this way - which does not mean that he omits to provide the customary presents for his bride.

[Page 505] Here are a few names given to advantageous positions:

irmā·n, "milk-giving female" (Issā·q) = weddin (Da·ro·d), position which secures a dzāre at every move by shunting a stone to and fro;

afārrej "owner of four" Owner of 4 stones

in placing the stones, dzara qallòį·, "crooked halter:

Stones as crooked halter

(this position secures a dzāre at, the next move).

2. dzara-badāχ (Issā·q)

Children's Game of Fah

A simp1e form of fāh, played by children. Each of the two players has three stones of distinctive colour or kind. These are placed alternately by them on the angles formed by three vertical and three horizontal lines.

When the six stones are placed, they are moved along the lines.

The first who gets his stones in a straight connected line wins the game.

Last update January 7, 2010