How did Maltese children play before the era of technology? Discover the traditional Maltese street games of bygone times.
Today's children are typically an indoor generation that spends hours entertained by television, video games and other forms of technology at home, but not so long ago, children would come out into the streets and play.
The Maltese lifestyle was very different to what we know today. The community was more familiar, there was less crime and far less traffic, guaranteeing a safer environment for children to mingle and play in the streets. Most mothers didn't go to work, and the Maltese society was more cohesive - neighbours were like uncles and aunties to the neighbourhood children, who played together as brothers and sisters.
Toys were scarce, which only spurred creativity, as children developed games with the minimum means and lots of imagination. Some of these make-shift games grew popular and widespread, and the older generations will certainly remember them as traditional street games. Here are a few of the most popular ones.
1. The 'xixu' (il-loghba tax-xixu)
You’ll need a large piece of wood to hit a smaller one and throw it in the air. Depending on whether your playmates manage to catch it while it’s airborne or when it’s fallen, the game continues...
2. The scooter and cart (il-karretta u l-iskuter)
The cart and scooter were toys that required more time and energy to put together, but once done, (mainly) boys enjoyed them for a long time, and these were also inherited among siblings. Could you imagine kids playing with these among the traffic on today's roads?
3. Marbles (il-bocci tal-hgieg)
Marbles came in small and larger sizes with various colours, and each child had a collection: the large metal ball bearing, the small glass ones, the transparent ones with colours inside and milk-coloured ones. Each child would win, lose, swap and repurchase to resume playing. All you need to do is hit a ball from a row or a box drawn on the ground to win that ball.
4. The skipping rope (il-qbiz tal-habel)
This game was mainly played by girls, who were beginning to mention the strengths and flaws of a man to marry, and destiny depended on where the rope stopped.
5. The kite (it-tajra tal-karti)
There was a time when everyone had a kite! The more colours and embellishments, and the higher it flew, the greater the pleasure!
6. Hopscotch (il-passju)
Nine boxes would be drawn on the ground with a piece of chalk. The game starts by placing a stone in the first box, skipping into each box, and collecting the stone on the way back. The first to do this for all nine boxes wins!
7. The circle (ic-cirku)
This toy was made up of an old bicycle wheel and a piece of wire to hold the wheel upright. Several different games could be played with the ring.
8. Soap bubbles (il-bziezaq ta-sapun)
A little soapy water and a piece of macaroni pasta or a straw were the tools to make soap bubbles, although some derived more delight in bursting them than making them!
9. The spinning top (iz-zugraga)
Spinning tops were some of the first manufactured toys, consisting of a piece of wood with a string or a tin one that worked with pressure. There was also a song to sing with the spinning of the top.
10. The ragdoll (il-pupa tac-carruta)
Mothers or grandmothers would make a fabric doll for little girls. The doll's face would be embroidered and she'd wear a pretty little dress, purposely made for her.
11. The game of beads (iz-zibeg)
Among the traditional Maltese games, this is one of the simplest. It was more commonly played by girls. The beads are run into a hole and in different variations of the game, the colours would have a different value or the winner takes it all!
12. Leapfrog (il-bombos)
A game played around the world by any boisterous child! As one child bends forward, the other jumps over, and so they would carry on until they tire themselves out!
Bonus: 'See death is coming to get you' (ara gej il-mewt ghalik), tug of war (il-gbid tal-ħabel) & cat and mouse (il-qattus u l-gurdien)
The first is a simple game involving a strange rhyme that describes death arriving as several fingers run over a child's back. When the blow arrives, the child must guess which of his playmates has cast it. The other two are perhaps more familiar, as they're not quite as exclusive to the Maltese Islands. In tug of war, a headscarf marks the middle that is aligned with a line on the ground. Each team pulls and tugs at a long rope until the other team is forced to cross the mid-line. Finally, in cat and mouse, a group of children would hold hands in a circle, with the cat outside and the mouse inside. The children raise and lower their hands to allow or block the passage as the cat attempts to capture the mouse.
Simple and sweet, these games certainly provoked the imagination. Children nowadays may have different toys and games to entertain them but even today, these games are encouraged in school playgrounds as an inherent part of Maltese culture.
BOV Calendar 2013