09 June 2012

Something to Love in Kyrgyzstan a Day: Bone Games

Bone games (see here for the real post about it) are one of my favorite things about Kyrgyzstan, even if the few real-life friends I have think it's weird that I like them, not that many real-life friends know I care about them.  Central Asia is largely separate from my real life in the US.

This photo is of my four original bones that a Mongolian student in Idaho gave me about 8 years ago, so I guess these are technically shagai.  All the rest of my bones are chuko from Kyrgyzstan, mostly the Naryn region.

Here's a story about bones that I posted before:

A friend of ours told us a good story today about chuko bones. Apparently collecting chuko bones when you are pregnant will ensure that you have a boy (and like many countries, boys are best in Kyrgyzstan), so our friend's mother was advised to collect bones when she was pregnant with her fifth child after having four daughters. She proceeded to get a nice large collection of bones.

Then one day before the birth, our friend (she was around 10 years old at the time) saw some little boys climbing a cherry tree and eating the green cherries. She was so worried about the boys (again, not surprising at all that a girl in Kyrgyzstan would feel like she needed to take care of stray little boys) that she said she would trade them the chuko bones for the green cherries.

Her mother had a girl. And she knew why when she found out what had happened to the bones.
I love that story. I hadn't thought about it for a long time, but I remembered it after my third son was born after I collected dozens of chuko in Kyrgyzstan.

Here's one more old post about bones:

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 ordotompoy (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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