Tribal Games: Practical and low budget sports played in the Tribal areas

Shuchita Jha

When it comes to sports, along with sports like cricket, football, basketball etch, tribal people are no novices to inventing amazing games too. These games, which do not require sporting equipment, and are easy to play.

The indigenous people are outdoorsy and have a good time hanging out in nature, near rivers, mountains and trees. These earthly elements also form the basis of many of their games, creating a strong bond between them and mother nature. While indigenous people worship nature, they also explore their creativity and design games to learn life lessons while playing outdoors. Some of their games are played during the day, while others take place on full moon nights.

Indigenous people of Western Madhya Pradesh are noted for their fair play as the games do not have a referee. Both teams play honestly and own up to mistakes and fouls when there is one. This is something I find really amazing because I was under the impression that without a third party, teams often end up fighting more than playing.. well, these were gully cricket lessons I had learned as a kid, so, are probably not very true. Heh, so much for playing outside, well.

Coming back to the point, these referee-free games ensure they learn how to function as a team and be a good sport. As they say, these games teach them how to lose, but also how not to be a loser.

Played in the moonlight, a guessing game involves locals as well as their oxen. This game is called ‘ghugamal’. In villages, locals know and can recognise each other’s cattle from their markings and sounds of bells. Taking advantage of this, youth create riddles about each other’s oxen and the player has to guess about who’s ox they are talking about. While this is a game, it holds a practical importance for the locals because when they can recognise their neighbours; cattle, it is sure they can plan a role in protecting it too. If they see an injured ox or cow or goat, they immediately know who to call and help reaches the animal soon. The game also increases their powers of observation and allows them to find and remember minor differences as well as similaritties.

They get three turns to guess the name of the cattle owner, and if they are unable to do so, the other team tries to touch their goal ( a small stone near the starting point). If the enemy team touches the stone before they give the right answer, they lose and the other team wins. To make the game more difficult, the enemy team only gives banal hints in the riddles instead of specific markings.

Another game enjoyed by the tribal children of the Bhil tribe is Dhukdhukdiyan, played in shallow ponds by children while grazing cattle. In this one child who is designated to find others in the water, kind of like an underwater Hide and Seek or you can say a desi version of Marco Polo. The one who is supposed to find others can also swim inside the pond and seek them out, but in case one of the players touches him in the water, he continues to be the finder.

Effigies of tribal women playing a indigenous board game. Photo- Madhya Pradesh Tribal Museum, Bhopal

This game makes tribal children expert swimmers as they spend many minutes under water, holding their breath, and swimming to get away from the finder. They pass many sunlit hours enjoying themselves and getting a lot of physical exercise while takeing their cattle out to graze.

Hunting used to be another tribal sport until a few decades, but now that has been banned, tribal people have started teaching their children how learn to fire arrows by making targets on trees and stones. Parents encourage their children to learn to shoot arrows to make them able marksmen in time of need, and keep the traditions alive. They also fashion beautiful and aerodinamically correct arrows from wood by themselves and pass on the knowledge to their children.

Some childen assist their parents in fishing when they learn to use bows and arrows properly as they are able to catch fishes by trying a long thread to their arrow before firing. During fish season, many families make their children compete against each other, and the child who catches the maximum number of fishes with his/ her arrow wins. After the game, the familes get together and cook the fish to have a big meal with their friends and families.

Most of these games played by the Bhil, Baiga, Saila, Gond and Korku tribes of Madhya Pradesh have a practical approach and hidden life lessons for their children, be it a guessing game, a swimmig game or fishing one.

They also play many board games similar to the Indian version of ludo – ashta-changa to help develop the mental prowess of the children. One such game called ‘chahrmar’ is played between two players, and it’s rules are quite similar to that of chess. The players can strategize their moves to win, which increases their powers of observation, planning and thinking ahead.

As a person who loves to play chess, but always looses, I think it’s great there’s another game like it, perhaps, someday I’ll learn that and hopefully win one game in my life, but given my tract record, I shouldn’t be counting on that… Oh well, one can only hope.

This was all for today. Hope you enjoyed this little peak into the sports played by tribal people, and their practical approach.

These are not mere games, they are life lessons that aid indegenious people in their day to day lives along with making them physically stronger and teaching them how to handle defeat gracefully.

Though there are no spectators for these low-budget games, they are no less thrilling than our modern-day sports.

Hope to see you next week for a new episode of Ground Tales to take you on a journey to the remote areas of central India. You can subscribe to for more details and don’t forget to follow us on twitter, instagram and facebook @groundtales.

Banner Photo- Effigies of tribal boys playing tug of war. Madhya Pradesh Tribal Museum, Bhopal


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