05 September 2009

Central Asian Bone Games and Bone Stories

I'm still interested in finding games, stories, and traditions about the sheep bones in Central Asia. I have a couple of stories, but not very many, and there's not much about the bones online, and most of what is online is about the games. Since they're called by so many different names, and not necessarily spelled the same on every website, they can be hard to track down online. But here are some new things:

One new tradition I found recently is that the groom at a Kazakh wedding might be given these bones from the sheep slaughtered for the meal to represent the hope that the couple would have a son who would play with the bones.

Here's a picture of a Kazakh boy's drawing of children playing with the bones.

There are a couple of traditions here from Mongolia about exchanging bones as a sign of friendship (I got my first 4 bones from one of my husband's students in Idaho when he saw how interested I was in them and some people in Kyrgyzstan were a bit surprised that their neighbors sold us bones instead of giving them to us- that was fine with me, because I wanted a lot) and about how the bones might be used in fortune telling.

"Shagai is also used in fortune telling. Four Shagai are rolled and depending on which sides they land on, a person will have a question answered. The sides with the convex humps are considered lucky to roll, with Horse being more lucky than Sheep, while the sides with the concave indents, goat and camel, are considered unlucky to roll. All four landing on the four different sides is considered very lucky."

And a mention in Manas:

The original meaning of the word "ordo" comes from the Kyrgyz traditional game called ordo (from "orto" i.e., "center, middle"). The game is played only by men who use sheep and horse knuckle bones. They draw a big circle on the even ground and place the "khan" in the center of the circle and also place his soldiers around the khan. By using different tactics, the players or "attackers" try to hit the khan and his soldiers with a tompoy (horse knuckle bone) with the aim of driving them out of the circle. This circle is compared to the kingdom of a khan and his army. In Manas, the game is mentioned several times. In the earliest episode of Manas, the young Manas is attacked by enemies while he was playing the ordo game with his friends.

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