Traditional Games in Myanmar

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday recently earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

In this lesson, we take a deeper look into the culture and people of the country Myanmar, also called Burma, through the games they play. You may notice similarities between these games and ones you might have played, like tag, dodge ball, or foosball.

Myanmar or Burma?

The official name of the country is now Myanmar, but it was called Burma until the current regime took power. Some foreign countries still show their support for the pro-democracy movement, which disputes the legitimacy of the military regime, by calling it Burma instead of Myanmar. Situated between Bangladesh, India, China, Laos, and Thailand, the country has a rich culture influenced by many different ethnic groups.

Map of Myanmar
Map of Myanmar

As the citizens strongly adhere to Buddhist practices, the country celebrates a unique practice for all families called novitiation. For one week, usually between the ages of three and eight, young boys will enter a Buddhist monastery for religious training and community service. However, this does not mean the children there don't know how to have fun. In fact, they play a wide variety of games in school and on their own.

Flag of Myanmar
Flag of Myanmar

Balon pouk

Balon pouk is Myanmar's take on Dodgeball, a game played with local variations around the world. In this game, officials divide the playing field in half and draw a large circle in the center. The dividing line cuts the circle as well. The defending team must stay inside the circle while the attacking team puts one member in either half of the circle. The two attackers work together, using one ball, to tag as many defenders as possible. If a defender catches the ball, they can get restore a teammate already tagged out, prolonging the game. It also puts the attacker who threw the ball out of the game and rotates a new attacker into the circle. Once all the defenders are out, the attacking team moves into the circle and begins their round of defense.

Balon pouk, a similar game to Dodgeball
A cartoon player pursues a dodgeball

Htoke see toe

Another game requiring a marked field is Htoke see toe, a game combining regulated movement on a grid, something usually found in board games, with a spirited game of team tag. To play, participants need two teams of ten people, seven on the field and three substitutes, as well as a play area marked by a series of lines determining where an attacking player starts and scores. Horizontal lines crossing the field determine where defensive players can move -- in a side to side motion across the field only.

The objective of the attacking team is to cross the field safely, avoiding the defensive players, and score a point by reaching the back line. Once they earn a point, they must safely return to the starting line to remain in the game. The defensive team, moving much like the players on a foosball table, run side to side, hoping to intercept the attacking runners and tag them out of the game. They cannot tag a player once the player crosses their defense line. They want to prevent the runner from reaching the score line, but if they cannot stop them, they can still tag them out of the game when they attempt to return to the starting line.

Shwe sun nyo

Shwe sun nyo means golden brown kite, a type of eagle or hawk. In this game, children reenact a story of an evil bird attempting to eat a small child or the smallest bird in a nest. One child plays the part of the bird while another plays the part of Ma Twe, the little child from the story. The other children play the part of the family trying to protect the little child.

A kite is a type of predatory bird.
Red Kite flying

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