[Ilonggo Notes] The games we used to play

Vic Salas
[Ilonggo Notes] The games we used to play

Guia Abogado/Rappler

In a generation or two, these traditional children’s games could become extinct – like so many languages, plant species, and animal species

Along Esplanade 3, one of the newly painted bridges has a motif of traditional childhood games – balls, jackstone, kites, marbles, slippers, and tin cans. This reminded me of traditional children’s games from decades back. Then, games handed down from an older generation kept us amused, fit, tanned, and sweaty.

Games commonly played then included pityaw, holens, tumba patis, pakalay trumpo, inns, touch ball, paaway damang, jackstone, lukso-lukso, piko, panago-ay, sik-yu, sud-sud, kick, burador, and lagsanay. The names evoke a rush of warm memories, with sounds of chatter and laughter. We’d rush out of class during recess and team up to play.

The games were often gendered – usually the girls would play piko and jackstones while the boys would have the tops, spiders, and marbles. Other games were equally played by boys and girls. We would make do with whatever was readily available; various degrees of physical activity would be involved – running, jumping, skipping, squatting, catching, crouching, and throwing. These demand speed, agility, good hand and foot coordination, balancing, and teamwork, and were an essential part of growing up. We’d find a way to select the playmates who were the most skilled, or try to balance team members by allocating more or less equally skilled people to different teams so it wouldn’t be too lopsided.

Guia Abogado/Rappler

Less physically taxing would be sungka, dama, Chinese checkers, dominos, or chess, but nevertheless these would involve concentration, focus, strategy, and anticipating moves. When we reached high school, basketball, volleyball, and football would be more popular, especially those that were on the athletics and sports calendar. On the sly were the betting games where one would try to outdo a classmate at opening a book to a page which had a higher number ending.

A childhood favorite, pityaw involves two opposing players or teams of equal number, a bowl-shaped hole in the ground, and two sticks: one about 12 inches long, another about six, usually cut from the longer stick. Agoho was a favored wood to use, being rounded and easily available. There would be three phases: one putting the short stick perpendicularly across the hole, and using the longer stick to thrust it out; then, throwing the smaller stick in the air and hitting it with the longer stick; and the third, balancing the smaller stick on the hole, one end slightly jutting out, and hitting it twice in quick succession. The opponents try to catch the smaller stick; if they fail, then points are calculated according to the stick-length distance from the hole. If the small stick is caught before it hits ground, then it becomes their turn to play. In a variation, the small stick is thrown back closely to the hole, to minimize the points of the other team.

Guia Abogado/Rappler

Inns, tubiganay, or patintero involves two teams and drawing lines on the ground. One team attempts to cross the lines and back, the other team must try to touch them while staying on the lines.

Similar to tag are sik-yu and lagsanay (running after someone), where one tries to outrun opponents and touch the opponent’s base first without being tagged.

Guia Abogado/Rappler

Piko is similar to hopscotch and involves jumping or skipping on a diagram of lines and rectangles drawn on the ground, pushing a coin or a small flat stone while standing on one foot, and skipping or jumping from one square to another.

In paaway damang, two spiders are pitted against each other. The spiders are usually house or garden spiders kept in matchboxes. They are put on opposite ends of a palm leaf rib or bukog, and make their way to the center, where they inevitably attack. The ugto-ugto, a yellow and black garden spider, is not a good fighter and easily defeated by smaller spiders. The loser falls off the stick or is wrapped up in a web made by the winner.

Guia Abogado/Rappler

Tumba patis – literally, the toppling. Here a player’s tsinelas is balanced on top of an empty tin can. From a distance of about three to five meters, other players try to topple the can by throwing one slipper towards it; then they try to retrieve their slipper and try to run back to home base without getting caught by the “it.” Anyone caught becomes “it” for the next round.

Guia Abogado/Rappler

The trumpo (top) is spun by winding a length of string around the top and launching it so that lands spinning on its point, the sharp end of a large nail. The string may also be wound around the spinning trompo in order to lift and move it. In pakalay (duel), the players try to hit the other top with theirs. If sufficiently forceful and angled, it can split the other open.

Sulpot (blow and hit) involves a small wooden tube, usually from Chinese bamboo or the native reed bagacay, into which you load a mungo bean or a mata-mata seed (those tiny red and black ones) and blow as hard as you can, thrusting and hitting a target, preferably on the back of the head, without being identified! The mata-mata seed is known as the rosary pea, and is toxic if ingested – something we did not know then.

Lastiko – lay down two rubber bands on a flat surface about an inch or two apart. Players crouch down on opposite sides, and by directly blowing on one rubber band, attempt to have one land on top of the other; the one who succeeds adds the rubber band to his collection.

Guia Abogado/Rappler

Holeyns involves digging about three or four holes on the ground, equidistant, while attempting to roll or place marbles into the holes, or hitting them so that they would either fall into the hole, or shift them far away from the holes.

Lukso-lukso (jump), would be played mostly by girls, and here they would try to jump over a piece of string set at progressively higher levels. Kick involves using part of the foot, palm, or a bent elbow to hit upwards a flat disc – coins will do – that is colorfully wrapped with plastic straw, or decorated with feathers, for as long as one can, without the “kick” hitting the ground. The one who does it for the longest time or who has the most successful hits wins the game.

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Less physically demanding would be sungka, a game with two players, using pebbles or shells distributed along a carved wooden board with holes on each side. There is also dama, a leaping capture board game. Variations of these games exist throughout Asia. They would have well-known rules – think dominos, Chinese checkers, Scrabble, snakes and ladders. 

Another game I recall would be seasonal – during the camanchile season, we would try to carefully peel off the black coating of the kamonsil seed with our nails; the seed encased in its brown skin minus the black coating is said to bring good luck.

It is also claimed that the yo-yo was invented by Filipinos hunting in the jungles, who could hit small animals and stun them using the wooden discs!

Wooden toys would be constructed from scrap wood, and wheels from bottle tops, wire, and nails. These would be pulled along on a piece of string, and would keep a toddler as happy as the status-symbol “matchbox” cars or those that could be assembled from boxed sets. 

Christmas-time, school parties, birthdays, or town fiestas would also be occasions for special games. Apple or banana eating contests, soft drinks contest, etc. I would not join these contests for a practical reason – it meant one would be full earlier and could not get to enjoy other food on offer during parties! There were other games like piñata, likely a Mexican import, bunot-bunot (raffle draw), egg-in-spoon relays, and palo sebo, races to climb a bamboo pole covered with grease to get a prize at the top of the pole. 

A particularly funny, if slightly unhygienic, game involves tilting one’s head back, putting a coin on the forehead, and grimacing and contorting the face in order to move the coin down towards the mouth, without the coin falling off and without using the hands.

I wonder if these traditional games, with unwritten yet communally understood rules and vernacular names, are still being played today. Walk into any mall and you’d see toddlers and their parents with their mobile phones and iPads, the tots transfixed by video games or cartoons. Kids are shunted off to play areas where one can tumble around among little plastic balls, jump on trampolines, or climb through a series of rubber tires and obstacles – for a fee of course. 

Traditional cultural and recreational activities, if replaced by established sports, colorful but cookie-cutter play areas, and computer games will lead to an irreparable loss of part of valuable cultural heritage. In a generation or two, these traditional children’s games could become extinct – like so many languages, plant species, and animal species, existing only in photos, videos, old artwork, and cyberspace. –

Vic Salas is a physician and public health specialist by training, and now retired from international consulting work. He is back in Iloilo City, where he spent his first quarter century.

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