Tribal Games of the Philippines That Are Still Played Today
The Philippines is a foreign concept. Prior to colonization, the archipelago consisted of a mishmash of ethnolinguistic cultures, each tribe and barangay bearing a name of their own. At present, the 7,641 islands have been categorized into three main geographical divisions as we know it: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. This article will explore tribal games from each division to exclude no one from the fun and nostalgia.
Filipino Tribal Games You Probably Haven’t Heard About
Games are universal phenomena. Adult and children alike maintain their own kind of games played at certain points in their lives. Sadly, the tribal games played by our ancestors soon gave way to foreign ones we installed in our phone, tab, PC, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, and the like, creating a great gap in the social connection that humans were wired to crave. In this age of chronic loneliness and social isolation, have you ever wondered what our forefathers and foremothers were preoccupied in when they were bored?
If you’re a millennial, you probably were lucky enough to have played a few of these. Yes, tribal games that existed thousands of years ago? They’re still played here and there, most especially in communities where technology happens to be inaccessible.
Originating from the Dumagat tribe, the buno games played a major role in a courtship-like ritual. Here, the players try their best to lock, pin, or subdue their opponent to the ground. They do this while grabbing each other’s loincloth strap, much like what sumo wrestlers do.
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Long before we began to settle in cities, land and territory disputes were often a problem. When our ancestors encountered these issues, instead of hiring a lawyer, the Dumagat people played a tribal ball game to decide who should own it. Presently, however, the Dumagat children play mali for fun. A ball made of cloth is thrown in the air, and two teams compete to catch it first. The player who manages to get the cloth ball must run toward the base of their enemy to win the game. Things get interesting as the opposing team tackles, blocks, or pulls the player with the cloth ball to defend their base. It takes skills and agile footwork to win. The winner would be given the rights to own the disputed territory.
During annual crop planting, Bontoc men prepare for a certain tribal war game akin to our paintball or airsoft matches of today. But this game requires you to fully embrace the pain of getting wounded or injured. During thanksgiving for good harvest and at the start of planting sweet potatoes, all men, young and old, play fagfagto. Armed with nothing but worn-out wooden shields and stones of varying sizes, men are divided into two groups and engage in a battle of stone hurling. There is no referee or umpire in this game, and it sometimes lasts up to four days. Players don’t stay in one spot. They can move to and fro or evade or even charge straight to their enemies to inflict maximum damage. Winners are decided when one group retreats to their village.
Cuts and bruises are common in this bloody game. However, the Bontoc believe that these wounds affect their tubers during harvest time. The bigger the wounds they receive, the bigger the tuber grows. The players don’t consider one another as enemies after the game. In fact, they come together as friends, which might be their way of showing sportsmanship.
Our ancestors also practiced various combat sports, some of which are kept alive by local martial artists. A tribal combat game that sprang from the Bontoc tribe is called kag-kag-tin, which, as its name implies, is a kicking game. Dozens of boys are divided into groups and use their naked feet to fight and charge at one another. The kicks usually aim at the trunk or head of the opponent. The players use the sole of the foot in a sudden upward or backward kick. As the game progresses, some players may gang up on a single member of the opposite group until an ally comes to help. The game eventually ends when one group surrenders and retreats.
Sangkayaw is a coconut shell race, a tribal game that originated from the Tagalogs. Coconut shells are tied to strings, with one end being held by the player’s hands. The game requires 2 groups, with 10 to 12 members each. The first player of each team walks toward the goal using the coconut shells. Once they reach the goal, they return to the starting line and pass the coconut stilts to the next player who does the same. The first team to finish the race wins, while players who walk for more than 2 steps after a fall are disqualified.
The bakunawa is a serpent-like dragon that, according to Visayan mythology, eats the moon (buwan) during lunar eclipses. It is also believed to be the cause of earthquakes, rains, and winds. The movements of the bakunawa served as the calendar system for ancient Visayans and were part of the rituals of the babaylan. Mythology states that this dragon inhabits either the sea, the sky, or the underworld.
In the game buwan buwan, one person from the group is tagged as the bakunawa. Another player stands inside the circle. This player is the buwan. The other participants stand in a circle, facing the center and holding one another’s hands. The bakunawa‘s objective is to tag the buwan, while the rest of the players prevent the bakunawa from doing so by holding on to one another and running around the circle as fast as they can without letting go. If the bakunawa is fast and small enough, they can get in by going under the linked hands. As soon as the bakunawa succeeds in getting in, the players forming the circle help the buwan out of the circle and trap the bakunawa inside. The bakunawa then tries to break out of the linked hands to catch the buwan.
When the bakunawa succeeds, they switch roles with the buwan. If both of them are too tired, another pair from the circle of players is chosen as the next bakunawa and buwan.
Dampa involves moving the rubber bands with the air produced by hitting the ground with hands. To produce the compressed air, the hands should be put together, palms down and arched like a dome. This can be played on any flat surface by a minimum of two players. The objective of the game is to move the rubber band forward from a line. Materials needed are several rubber bands and a chalk or charcoal to draw the designated starting line with.
Sungka is a traditional Cebuano “board game,” also widely played in Southeast Asia. It is played using a sungkaan, and each player has 49 shells/pebbles/seeds called sigay, which are equally distributed in the holes of the sungkaan. The sungka board has fourteen holes in two sets of seven and an additional bigger hole / storehouse for each player. Each player controls the seven holes on their side of the board, and their score is the number of sigay in their right-hand storehouse. Both players begin simultaneously by scooping up all the sigay in any house on their side. Each drops a sigay into the next house and continues clockwise, depositing one sigay into every house thereafter. Each player drops a sigay into their storehouse each time they pass it but does not deposit any into their opponent’s storehouse.
How the game continues depends on where the last sigay of each scoop is deposited. The person with the most number of sigay is declared the winner.
Sabong sa kaka
Spider fighting is a blood sport involving spiders. Popular among Asians, the Visayan version is staged between female spiders of various species of web weavers. The spiders kill an opponent if the loser does not quickly flee or receive the aid of a human handler. The game begins by placing two spiders at opposite ends of a stick. The spiders are then prodded to move along the length of the stick until they encounter each other and fight. How a fight ends is agreed upon beforehand. Fights to the death will end with one spider being bitten, paralyzed, or swiftly wrapped in silk. Non-lethal matches end when one spider falls from the stick (once or several times, depending on the agreement). Occasionally, the child holding the stick may need to quickly intervene in a non-lethal fight to prevent the winning spider from eating the losing spider.
Tubig-tubig literally means “water water.” It is a tribal group game played in an open space like a schoolyard, empty street, or the beach. A big rectangle is drawn on the ground using water, hence the name. Sometimes, the players also use chalk or charcoal to draw the lines, depending on the type of surface they’re playing on. Another two lines are drawn horizontally inside the large rectangle and one vertical line in the middle. The players are divided into two teams: the passers and the guards. Each team should have the same number of players. The objective of the game is for the passers to cross the four horizontal lines and back, without being tagged by the guards.
The guards position themselves on the lines, while the passers start from behind the starting line. Guards must tag the passers as they try to cross the lines. They are not, however, allowed to step out of the lines in trying to tag the passers. Passers must successfully cross the lines without being tagged. Any passer caught in the process of crossing is automatically eliminated from the game. Passers cannot stay inside the square for more than 3 minutes (the duration can vary depending on the players’ agreement). Once all the passers are eliminated, the teams switch positions.
A passer who successfully passes from the starting line to the end and returns without being caught earns a point for their team. The team that earns the most number of points wins the game.
A man and three women pound rice and produce the most amount of hulled rice in the shortest time. The rhythmic pounding of four pestles into one big wooden mortar resemble percussion, and they have to be well coordinated or else the players hit one another instead.
Totaringki is a contest of making fire with the use of pieces of bamboo and some dried moss. The bamboos are made to create friction by rubbing each other until they heat up enough to fire up the inflammable dried moss.
Players use blow darts to hit a hanging target. Blow darts were used for hunting, as well as capturing an opponent, in the days when these tribes were forest dwellers policing themselves and keeping an army of real tribal warriors. The hanging target is a banana bud, which is soft enough to be pierced by a dart but resilient enough not to be torn apart.
This is an archery game. The tribes make their own bows and arrows used for hunting and tribe wars. Same with solopot, the target is also a banana bud and the point system is the same.
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