Some Arab Games And Puzzles

R. Davies

Sudan Notes and Records, No. 8, 1925, Pages 137-152

It appears from a reading of this paper, that the author was a British anthropologist or ethnologist working in the Sudan in the 1920s. However, the author might have been a British civil servant or a missionary. An attempt to find biographical information about the author has not been successful. If a viewer can provide this information, it will be included in an update to this page. In any event, the content of this article is a valuable addition to information about games.

All of the line drawn graphics used in this article appeared in the original paper, apparently drawn by the author. The colorful graphic additions where not in the original paper.

Arab on a camel


[Page 137] The games and puzzles here described were seen, and at times played, by me in Kordofan Province, among the camel-breeding Kababish Arabs on the fringe of the northern desert, and the cattle breeding Homr Arabs of the south, who share with the Dinka the mudflats of the Bahr El Arab, a tributary of the Bahr El Ghazal. I have refrained, hitherto, from publishing them, on the general ground that, however good games may be to play, their rules and conventions make the dullest reading in the world, but I am persuaded now to do so, partly because they are said to be of anthropological interest, but chiefly to bring them to the notice of members of the Political Service who may work among nomad Arabs. For not only are some of these games interesting and difficult to play well, but they can be used to bring the Englishman into contact with the Arab in a capacity other than that of tax-gatherer or punisher of delinquencies, and from this point of view have a definite administrative value.

In two respects the scope of this paper is strictly limited. No research whatever has been undertaken into the question of the geographical distribution of the different types of game here described, or into the historical question of their origins and ancestry. On the first of these topics volumes of material doubtless exist to be collected, for in one form or another, these games are widely known and played in Africa. The lineage is more difficult to trace, for it is only in recent times that such frivolous matters have been deemed worthy of the attention of serious-minded travelers. Even the admirable Dr. Henry Barth, who gathered most things, great and small, into his net, never, if the index to his works is to be trusted, recorded the sedentary games of the tribes which he visited.

Most games have their seasons, and for these Arab games the season is primarily the fasting month of Ramadan, when they while away the time and enable the players to forget their hunger and thirst. [Page 138] Sometimes they forget too completely, as when a tornado, accompanied by hail, broke over the encampment of the Nazir of the Kababish in June, and he, absorbed in a game of "Um El Banat", popped into his mouth a large hailstone, which melted before he realized, with dismay, that he had broken the fast.

An Arab


  • Games of the type of Draughts
    1. Sīja
    2. Dāla
  • Games of Counter-Distribution
    1. Mangala or Um El Bagara or The Cow
    2. Um El Tuweisat or The Little Goat
    3. Kāra
    4. Um El Banāt or The Game of Daughters
  • Games with Dice
    1. Li'b El Merafib or The Hyena Game
    2. Sīja(t) El Tāba
  • Puzzles
    1. Lt’ba(t) Iblīs or The Devil's Game
    2. El Arnab or The Hare
    3. The Two Maidens
    4. Changing Camp

    Last update January 6, 2010