Playing with bones

In the Mallorca of our childhood (and, with small differences, in all the other islands) there were two games that we practiced with knucklebones, astragali or jacks. One was more masculine, it was called “osset” (little bone) or “tot” (all). In Menorca it was known as “marraquinca”. In Spanish it is usually called “jugar a la taba”. In these games, as it is fitting, everything was precisely regulated. Accordingly, each of the four sides of the bone had its own name:

— “Rei” (king). This is the flattest side that rises slightly with tip like a shoe, thus having a sort of a beak or nose.
— “Escorretja” (belt). A side opposite to the “king”, which has a kind of a hollow.
— “Post” (table). The broad side which is somewhat convex.
— “Cul” (ass). The side crossed by a channel which forms a little hole in the middle.

There was also a fifth option, the best, as it was the most improbable: when the bone falled on its tip or on the edge, showing two sides. This was called “tot” (all) or “nèpel” (?).

It could be played in several versions, but the basic one was like a game of dice: we threw the “marraquinca” or “taba” in the air, and when it fell, one won or lost according to the side visible. In Menorca they usually played it with two knucklebones. If someone had “tot” or “nèpel”, he was an absolute winner.

However, there was also a different way of playing it with several players. First, each player chose one side for himself. So during the first round every player got the name of the side shown by the bone after his throwing. As the game progressed, they gradually rotated the names. The player assuming the character of “king” decided how many lashes should get the loser as well as the force to be applied (strong, weak, or “de pinyol” – very strong). They had to agree on the number and force of the punishment already before starting the game. The king was playing with a stick in the hand as a distinctive sign or a scepter. The “escorretja” (belt) was in charge of applying the lashes, usually with a handkerchief or a rolled old rag, and he asked: “quàntes mana el senyor rei?” (how many do you order, lord king?), o “quàntes cimades?” (how many lashes?) Who had “cul”, received all the punishment, and who had “post”, was free from all. If one had “tot”, the lucky player assumed at the same time the role of “king” and “belt”, and he could do whatever he pleased, to punish or to forgive… Of course the game was started by the owner of the “marraquinca”. During the game, who launched the “marraquinca”, usually chanted:

Marraquinca de bon os,
fes tot i no facis post.
Marraquinca de bon os,
no facis cul ni facis post.
Ai, bon Jesuset estimat,
feis que tregui tot.
“Marraquinca” of a good bone
do tot and do not do tabla.
“Marraquinca” of a good bone
don’t do culo, neither tabla.
Oh, good beloved little Jesus,
do that I have tot.

This was usually a peasant boys’ game which reached the yards of city schools in the early 20th century. They usually played it after Easter. It was also played after killing animals, when it was easy to obtain bones.

This was more or less that Mallorca about which we now speak, around 1964, under
the affectionate gaze of a tourist sitting in a Seat 600 (a great icon of Francoism)

The other game we mentioned at the beginning was that of five stones of which we spoke at length in the previous post. In Mallorca it was mainly a female game, called “jugar a pedretes”, “a cinquetes” o “als ossets” (game with stones, with five, with bones), or even “jugar al trempó” or “joc dels pecos”. It was played both with stones and (a more elegant and preferred solution) with five knucklebones. On a basis of launching a bone in the air and collecting the others, the rules and variations were almost endless, changing from village to village, or even from school to school. We recall some names of different sets:

— “Passar farina” (flour bolting). Before catching the bone in the air, the other four have to be moved.
— “Grenyar la pasta” (shaping the dough). While the bone is in the air, the other four ones have to be turned one by one.
— “Rossegall” (dragging). Two stones have to be separated and then picked up until the one is in the air.
— “Pou” (well). The stones in the air must be caught with the hand forming a well.
— “Canti o no canti” (singing or not singing). Before catching the stone in the air, it must be predicted whether it will make noise with the one in the hand.

Sometimes they played with more than five stones or bones, and sometimes even with bones of apricot or loquat. The single pieces were also called “peco” (hence “joc dels pecos”). We have found that traditionally it was played only during Lent, and the reason is because it was, as they say, a quiet game, involving no singing. They also say that the games involving throwing objects to the air mask a ritual of invoking rain. Hiding stones also has this purpose, as they invoke the wind bringing rain, a gift indispensable in our so dry islands.

And a final linguistic precision. As many know, in Italy, on the Western shore of Sardegna there is a city where they speak Catalan, Alghero, L’Alguer. In the Catalan of the place a pebble is called a “ginqueta”. The etymology of this word is absolutely not easy to decipher, but the most probable hypothesis is that it comes from “cinquetes”, that is from the game played with five pebbles.

3 comentarios:

Effe dijo...

that etymology of ginqueta seems convincing to me, good job.
(the city name is Alghero, without the article)

Studiolum dijo...

Grazie, corretto!

Effe dijo...

(I see that in Català it's L'Alguer)