Traditional Games in Romania

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'll travel to Romania and find out more about the rich game traditions of the people. Beyond the popular fiction of this country, we find games similar to American baseball and interesting variations of tag.

Romania: An Overview

The Eastern European country of Romania celebrates a long heritage predating their early Roman conquest. The Dacians, the people living there at the time, adopted many parts of Roman culture. Their language is part of the Romance language family with Spanish, Italian, and French. However, they have a strong culture all their own, taking pride in their history and their strength against invaders like the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Turkish Empire, and the Soviet Union.

Flag of Romania
Flag of Romania

The Carpathian Mountains fill one-third of the nation's area and surround the Transylvanian Plateau. Yes, Transylvania is part of Romania, although it once was considered part of the neighboring country of Hungary. Don't let the fiction fool you though, Romanians are not vampires or live in a dark and spooky country. In fact, children and adults love to play both complex team games and simple playground activities. Let's take a look at a few of these to get a better sense of the people who live there.

Map of Romania
Map of Romania

Oina

Among Romanian games, Oina, symbolizes the country's heritage more than any other. Dating back to at least the 14th century, no one is sure exactly when or how the ball sport began. Scholars even debate the origin of the name. Legend has it that Oina may mean 'game', according to the Cuman, a tribe of people from Turkey. However, the name more likely comes from the Romanian term for herding sheep as indicated by a number of other words used in the game with sheep references.

The team's captain is called a 'shepherd,' stepping up to bat is referred to as 'entering the sheep den,' and the players trying to catch a ball in the outfield are called pascari, which means guardians of the sheep. The pitch area is a rectangle of an approximate size of 70m x 32m with an 'in game', 'batting', and 'back zone.'

Teams

In Oina, there are two teams of eleven players on the field and up to five alternates to replace injured teammates. The defending team, those in the outfield attempting to catch the ball and stop the batting team, uses three midfielders, six side players, one back player, and one forward player.

Three of the side players line the path a batter will run to reach outfield bases and three side players will line the path a batter will run to return to the home base. The back player guards the furthest base while the forward player guards the home base. The attacking team waits their turn at bat but, unlike baseball, the pitcher is on the batter's team.

Romanian stamp with Oina image
Romanian stamp with Oina image

How to Play

When a hitter strikes the ball, they attempt to run along one path to a base in the outfield, them back along another path to the home base. This means there are only two bases in the game, rather than the four used in baseball. If the ball is caught in the air or if a defending team player can touch the runner with the ball as they run between bases, the runner is out. Each game takes approximately an hour with two, 30-minute halves with the teams switching places at half time. Scoring occurs when the attacking team's players reach a base, both in the outfield and when they return home. The defending team can also score, earning a point for every player they put out of the game before they get to the home base.

Children's Games

The games of Romanian children resemble many playground games around the world with variants on the game 'tag' being most popular.

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