Intangible Cultural Heritage of Asia and the Pacific

Two children playing iou naiong © Hale Lahui

Learning Social Roles while Playing Traditional Games

Traditional games in Papua New Guinea, mainly played by children, were an integral part of society. The nature of those games can be categorized as games of skill, games of strength, water sports, and games for quieter mood.

In most cases, traditional games give children indications of their societal roles when they grow up. There are games, throwing objects at a target, which helps train a child to be an accurate spear thrower. In other games, children imitate their parents by gardening, hunting, fishing, and performing traditional ceremonies. Such games and many others serve a very important role and function in the societies in which they exist.

Iou Naiong

An example of a traditional game in Papua New Guinea is iou naiong, a hide-and-seek game that comes from the Madok people of Umboi Island in Madang Province of the Momase region. The game is normally played by both genders, who divide themselves into two teams of five to eight players. Players’ ages range from eight to fifteen. Normally, boundaries of the play area are agreed to by both parties before the game begins, especially at night.

In the game, those on the team to hide leave their opponents lying with their faces to the ground and eyes closed. At the shouting of the word niongua by the last player to hide, the seekers go out searching. There are two ways to win. If the seeking team find all of their opponents, then the seekers win. If the hiding team is able to elude their opponent, then the hiding team wins. After a win, the teams change sides. This may go on for several hours.

Tabar Ngutuv

Tabar ngutuv is another game from Umboi Island. The aim of the game is to see which player can force opponents to stay under water for the longest time. Two teams of about five to ten players each usually compete in the game. Those participating are usually between the ages of ten and fifteen. It is played in the daytime throughout the year in shallow reefs around the village.

At the start of the game, the two teams should be about twenty or more meters from each other. At a signal given by the referee, members of the two teams charge at each other. As soon as the players meet, they grab each other’s heads, ears, hands, and hair and try to drown each other. The losers of the game are those who retreat to the beach because they are overpowered by their opponents. In addition, players who cry or use their fists on their opponents are also declared losers of the game.

Tingol Pelegan

Another traditional game from Umboi Island is called tingol pelegan, which helps to train young warriors to accurately aim and throw their spears. For the game, spears of about two to three meters long are used, and the target is the mid ribs of coconut frond, which is placed in the center of the play area. A calculated distance of about twenty to thirty meters is agreed to by the rivalries before they compete against each other. It is mostly played by males between the ages of eleven and fifteen. They divide each other into teams of three to eight players. It is played throughout the year during the day on the beach or at the clearing of the bush. In this game, those who hit the target with most spears remaining on the target score points, and those who score the most points win.

Most societies have traditional sports and games played by both young and old. Papua New Guinea has more than eight hundred different languages with varied traditions and cultures which help to shape people’s behavior in a particular locality. This paper is an attempt to demonstrate three of the many traditional games played by the different cultural and ethnic groups of Papua New Guinea.

The common hide-and-seek and holding-breath-underwater games of the Madok people are not rare and can also be seen elsewhere throughout the country.

Perhaps it would be an interesting idea to conduct a thorough sociological and anthropological study on traditional games played by different societies of the world to ascertain similarities and differences in the way people behave and conduct themselves in their societies.