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Traditional Games in Qatar

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

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

Games offer vital social interaction and a common interest for the people of Qatar. In this lesson, we'll look at popular games for adults, such as Dama and Carom, and a children's game, called Tak Tak Tagia, that may sound very familiar.

A Diverse Country

Qatar is a small country on a peninsula on the western edge of the Arabian Gulf. This Middle Eastern country often describes its shape as a hand extended in prayer, connecting it to the national religion of Islam. Within the country, three ethnic groups comprise most of the citizens: the Bedouin, who descend from desert nomads; the Hadar, who descend from farmers and city-dwellers; and the Abd, who descend from East African slaves now free in Qatar.

Map of Qatar
Map of Qatar

For both adults and children, games are important, unifying activities in this country of diverse ethnic populations. Games provide social interaction outside the family and bring people of various backgrounds together. Games, such as Dama and Carom, are favorites played in many coffee shops by adults throughout the Middle East. While children learn these games in childhood, they usually are not allowed to play in gathering places like their adult siblings and parents. For children, the most social game is Tak Tak Taiga, which is similar to American Duck-Duck-Goose, and played at home, in school, and among neighboring children.

Dama

Once a vital part of daily life in Qatar, the board game known as Dama fell out of fashion for many years after the introduction of electronic entertainment. Recently, however, efforts to revive the game seem successful, as it is now included as part of the National Sport Day activities, beginning in 2012.

Believed to originate in ancient Egyptian society where it was played only by royals, Dama resembles checkers in many ways. It is played on a board of 64 squares, alternating black and white, with flat disks of two different colors. Usually, these disks are black and white, but for our illustration, they are red and blue. To start, each player places his or her pieces along the second and third rows of the board on opposite sides. Whichever player has white, or for our illustration red, goes first.

Dama
Dama

A player can move his or her piece one space forward or one space to either side. You cannot move normal pieces backwards. If an opponent's piece is in that square with an empty space on the other side, you can jump that piece and take it from the board. If a series of jumps will remove more pieces, you can continue moving until all possible pieces are captured. The rules require players to choose the move that captures the most pieces, and failure to do so forfeits the game.

If a piece reaches the back row of the opponent's side of the board, it will be 'crowned' and earn the ability to move any amount of spaces horizontally or vertically, like a rook in chess, but it can only capture a piece if it can jump a single space and land on an empty space on the other side. The game ends when a player can no longer make any legal moves, often because there are no pieces left on the board.

Carom

Another popular coffeehouse game, Carom combines elements of chess, billiards, and shuffleboard. Each game table has a pocket in each corner and lines on the surface to help players line up their shots. Instead of a ball, however, players use black, yellow, and red disks which they flick into the pockets with their middle or index fingers. Players earn different points based on the color of the disks, but complex rules determine which colored disks must be played and the order they must be put in the pockets. Shots that do not land in a pocket stay on the table and provide opportunities for extra points, as a flipped disk can knock in additional pieces.

Carom
Carom

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