For A Few Socks of Marbles

I grew up in different neighbourhoods, Arab and Kurdish ones. Until I was nine I lived in an Arab neighbourhood. The people who lived there were sent from the south to the north of Iraq as part of their service by the army.

I was always the black sheep there – they use to call me Kurd and meant it as a form of insult. They could tell I was a Kurd because of my accent.

When I turned ten, we moved to a Kurdish neighbourhood.

I was the only one who wasn't wearing the Kurdish Shirwal (the traditional wide trouser). This time my biggest fear was to be called the Arab because of my Arabic accent when speaking Kurdish. It didn't take long until they understood what I was afraid of, and soon they started calling me Arab as a form of insult and I was marginalized and excluded again. For a child, it was really very hard.

Anyway, children play games according to seasons. For example, in Autumn we used to play with kites because of the wind. Then, when the Summer came they started to play with marbles. Marbles and cowboy card collections from bubble gum wrappings were really very popular among children. There were children who had many of them and were quite well known even beyond their own neighbourhoods. There were children who come to play and gamble from far away and they sometimes lost thousands of cowboy cards. The same happened with marbles. There were children who had ten socks full of marbles – it was like becoming a millionaire when you made your first sock!

It was at that time that I started using what I had learned from the Arab style of marble playing. The Kurdish children in the neighbourhood were playing the Kurdish way, horizontal hand position, which made it hard to hit the target when stones and small hills were in between. They were playing according a Kurdish marble game, which was called Mushien. This game was very complicated and had lots of rules. In some cases for example you were not allowed to hit the last marble that was called Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca) and many other regulations in which one didn’t feel free, and usually won or lost only a few marbles at a time. On top of that the most important marble is made from stone with the use of small hammer, by the children themselves. Sometimes it took a player months until the stone had the perfect round shape.

I told them about my new game, it was called Tannab. Tannab was much easier and has almost no restrictions at all, but had really big consequences where you lose for example up to five marbles, but if you win, you would win twenty-five. They were quite seduced by it‘s freedom and profitability. So we started playing. With the vertical hand position that I learned from the Arabic neighbourhood I managed to bankrupt the whole street. Then afterwards I sold the marble back to them. It was 1981. I remember I earned one Dinar at that time and I gave it to my mother to buy me a pair of Kurdish Shirwal.

From then on I was accepted as one of them and no one called me an Arab again.

The rules

Arabic game Tannab

- You have a two meters diameter circle with a line at the centre, where twenty-five marbles are laying – five for each participant. Each player shoots with his key marble starting from another line that is parallel to the one in the circle.

You should hit one or more marbles in the circle and scatter them around. If your key marble goes out of the circle with the others, you can take all the ones, which are outside. Then the other players would shoot from the circle line. If your key marble stay in the circle and manages to push at least one of the marbles out of the circle you can take all the twenty-five marbles.

The Kurdish game Mushien

This game was so complicated I still don’t know how exactly the rules were. But I remember few things. There are 3 marbles on one line with a distance of 1 meter between each of them. You cannot take the Hajj that is the last remaining marble, when there are three players. If you are allowed to then the other players would stick their key-marbles to the Hajj and the protect it. You have to hit exactly the Hajj, which is between them. And such other regulations only for one or two marbles.( this is for the sketch which is a line with three marble).

- In the Arab strategy, for shooting the tension comes from the middle finger and the thumb, which makes it stronger than in the Kurdish game where the tension comes from the index and the middle finger.( for the images with both right hand)

- In the Kurdish game, you put the marble on the back of your hand, always in the same position, in the hollow between thumb and index finger. The hand is horizontal and it is attached with the whole palm to the floor, which makes it not easy to shoot in the uneven surfaces where we use to play.

The Arab style, on the contrary, is vertical and erected and the hand is attached to the floor only with the pinkie: in this way you have a wider view and you shoot from above. ( for image with both, Kurdish and Arabic left hand position)

Written with Francesca Recchia