Traditional Games in Poland

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

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

The Polish people celebrate their cultural traditions, especially their games. Many of these pastimes date back to the Middle Ages. In this lesson, we'll look at two of these ancient games and a more contemporary one from the 20th century.

The People of Poland

The Central European country of Poland celebrates a rich heritage dating back to its ancestral Slavonic tribes near Poznan. Its neighbors include Russia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Germany. In the 20th century, invasion by Germany and Soviet control stifled much of the country's cultural traditions, but with the fall of the Soviet Union, Poland is actively working to revive its traditions and cultural heritage.

Map of Europe featuring Poland
Map of Europe with Poland highlighted

Children in Poland learn their first socialization and play through the family, usually consisting of parents, siblings, and at least one set of grandparents. Godparents also help to socialize children and Polish custom believes a child will take on the characteristics of the godparent of matching gender. Playmates usually include siblings, cousins, the children of godparents, and neighbors. Let's look at some of the games popular in Polish communities.

Polish grandparents and grandchildren
Polish Grandparents and Grandchild

Palant

Palant dates back to the Middle Ages and shares similarities with the American game of baseball. To play, you need two teams with at least 7 players and no more than 15 players, a bat called a palant, and a ball. As one team tries to hit the ball, the other attempts to catch any balls hit. The teams switch position after all players on the first team take a turn at batting. Once all the players on both teams have taken their turn, the game ends and the highest scoring team wins. A more formal variation splits the game into 2 periods of 20 minutes, regardless of all the players who batted.

The field of play includes two zones labeled ''heaven'' and ''hell''. The batting area is part of the heaven zone while the field where the catching team waits is part of the hell zone. Once a player hits the ball, they run from the heaven zone to a finish line in the hell zone then return to a safe base called the nest in the heaven zone. With the influence of cricket and baseball, some games now use 4 bases but the traditional games still involve running to hell and back to heaven. The catching team attempts to catch the ball before it hits the ground, counted as an out, or to grab the ball and hit the player before he or she reaches the nest.

Kapela

A traditional folk game mainly played in shepherding communities, Kapela only requires a pyramid-shaped stack of stones, 4-6 balls, a hat, and a way to make a circle approximately 8 meters in diameter on the ground. To play, one person takes the role of a guardian tasked to protect the kapela, or ''chapel'', made of stones. This player also wears a hat while performing this role. The other players stand outside the circle and attempt to knock over the stones by throwing the balls. If a player succeeds in toppling the kapela, he or she must then run to get their ball and return to the outside of the circle. As soon as the kapela falls, however, the guardian rushes to restack the stones then throw their hat at the player attempting to retrieve the ball. If they hit the player with their hat before the player leaves the circle, that player becomes the new guardian for that round. If the guardian fails and the player returns safely outside the circle, the guardian must continue their role for the next round.

Stones stacked in a roughly pyramid shape similar to those used in kapela
Stones stacked in a roughly pyramid shape

Pierscieniówka

Finally, we have a game invented in 1936 as a variation of volleyball. Pierscieniówka requires two teams of 3-6 players, a court of approximately 18 meters by 9 meters, and a net dividing the court into two sides. A team wins a point when the ball strikes the ground in the other team's side of the court. A team can only touch the ball three times before they must send it back to the other team's side of the court.

The net looks similar to those used in volleyball, but it has three holes.
Game Net

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