Swati Basu Das explores the historic connection of Omani traditional games to the Sultanate’s cultural legacy.
To share stories of a nation and its people is to enrich our understanding of their society – and to witness their customs and traditions is to appreciate their cultural legacy and its link to a living history. And many times, visitors and tourists will most often equate this appreciation through interaction with a country’s food, clothing, art, music, or faith.
One rather unique way of engaging with a nation’s cultural identity that we don’t often think of is through its games. And no, we’re not talking about Fortnite, Xbox or PlayStation.
Aging authentically over time, many traditional games still played today across cultures from around the world remain timeless – and Omani traditional games are no exception; their rules of play and the participants who keep them going ultimately reflecting the folk culture of the Sultanate.
Passed on each new generation by elders to their descendants, Oman’s repertoire of traditional games holds an ability to weave intricate and intelligent bonds between the master and the novice.
With their infinite potential for entertainment and education, these historic pastimes are finding new tenacities of players to embrace them and continue their proliferation. Across the board, each participant makes their move with forethought and strategy – contenders’ intent on executing an enduring legacy of age-old custom.
Seventy-five-year-old Al Al Rashdi, a resident of the fishing village of Al Ashkara in Ash Sharqiyah Governorate, is one such perpetuator of tradition. He believes that playing and practicing traditional games is the best way to foster a sense of closeness in his tight-knit community. An expert in the game of ‘Al Hawalees’, Ali’s wrinkles deepen as he smiles, reminiscing on friendly matches with his mates and his winning streaks.
His goal? To defeat in play his old friend Juma; but, more importantly, to pass on the skills needed to hone ‘Al Hawalees’ onto the next generation of youth. “We play this game every weekend,” he says. “The game needs to thrive. It improves our tactical thinking, and our grandchildren learn the art from us. Moreover, it’s one of the hobbies that have made our ties even stronger. It’s played collectively and increases the possibility of entertainment for all those who take part.”
An informal daily get-together takes place every evening at the beach in Al Ashkara, as Ali and his group of elders gather play together – cementing the traditional values that bind them. Whether it’s their good-natured banter, or whispers of childhood memories, folklore, or fishing techniques, their experienced participation in their cultural hobby-sport of ‘Al Halwalees’ remains at the centre of their attention.
While competitors participate with a zeal to win, a gallery of spectators encircles them on the beach to watch the match…but what they’re really witnessing is living history – a game that, until now, hasn’t passed into obscurity with age and instead remains a vital component of their culture, linked to memories of the past.