Traditional Games in Trinidad & Tobago

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 the southernmost Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago to better understand the games they play. Featured are the card game All Fours, a festival game called Maakhan Chor, and a playground game called Moral.

Two Islands, One Country

The nation of Trinidad and Tobago encompasses the two most southern Caribbean islands, each home to very different cultures and citizens. Efforts to represent both groups encouraged a new term for the citizens: Trinbagonians.

Map of Trinidad and Tobago
Map of Trinidad and Tobago

Nearly every inhabitant of Tobago descends from Africans while Trinidad houses a mixture of indigenous islanders and the descendants of people from Africa and India primarily, with a few citizens of European or Asian descent.

Rather than a source of division, the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago use their rich heritages to celebrate the many influences of their national identity through religious festivals, music, and games.

All Fours

The card game All Fours originated in England, but became popular in Trinidad during the 19th century. The game is now the National Game of Trinidad and Tobago. To play, you need four players and a standard deck of 52 cards. Similar to games like Spades and Euchre, the objective of the game is to win tricks to score points.

To play, the four players make two teams with partners sitting opposite one another. Players cut the deck to decide which team deals first with the high card winning the deal.

Each player starts with six cards and both dealing and game play go counterclockwise. Once everyone has their cards, the dealer flips the top card to decide the trump suit for the round. If the top card is an ace, the dealer's team gets a point. If it is a six, they get two points. If it is a jack, they get three points.

At this point, the player on the dealer's right can say stand if they like the trump suit or say 'beg' if they want the dealer to draw another card. It is up to the dealer to decide whether to grant the request. If the dealer agrees, all players take three more cards and the dealer flips another card to see the trump suit. If denied, the dealer forces the opposing team to each take one card and they begin the game.

The player on the right of the dealer can choose any card to begin the game. Any player with the same suit as the card just played must use that suit or play a trump card. However, if they don't have that suit, they can play any card they wish regardless if it is a trump suit or not. The highest card of the suit played, or the highest trump card if someone plays a card from the trump suit, wins the trick.

The team with the most tricks at the end of the game wins one point. The team playing the highest card in the trump suit wins a point. Whichever team plays the lowest trump card also wins a point. If a team uses the trump jack to win a hand, they score one point. However, if they use the trump jack and the other team still wins, the opposing team scores three points.

Finally, the teams add up the value of the cards they won in each trick with aces = 4, kings = 3, queens = 2, jacks = 1, and tens = 10 for a surprise twist. No other cards award points.

Maakhan Chor

Maakhan Chor is a game brought to Trinidad and Tobago with immigrants from India. The game reenacts the story of Lord Krishna, a Hindu god, stealing a pot of maakhan, a milk curd similar to butter.

Teams of up to ten children and teens make human pyramids trying to reach a pot of maakhan hanging above the ground about 20 feet in the air. The game is timed and the first team to retrieve the pot wins. This is often played during religious festivals.

Children build human pyramids to reach the maakhan pot.
Human Pyramid

Moral

Moral shares a number of similarities with the game of hopscotch in that both involve numbered squares drawn on the ground and children performing tasks to progress along the spaces and back. However, Moral has more complicated tasks which can make it much more fun.

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