TRADITIONAL CHILDHOOD GAMES
Bank of Valletta hasproduced its third calendar in a series that captures times past... and judgingby interest shown in these calendars, nostalgia is a powerful magnet.
BOV launched the nostalgia seriestwo years ago when it focussed on old trades, many of which are dying out. Itfollowed it up last year with a look at the musicians who used to play inStrait Street’s mecca of bars, taking them back to the old Splendid Guest Houseto recapture the glorious past.
This year’s calendar,brainchild of the bank’s marketing team who worked in collaboration with JP Advertisingand photographer Joe P. Smith to take a look at the toys and games that formedpart of childhood many years ago.
This simple concept plunged the teaminto a complex project, involving research into the subject matter, a largenumber of extras including elderly people from one of the residential homes,props from a toy museum, and of course, historical accuracy. Some of the toyscame from private collections or from people who had been treasuring these toyssince their childhood days.
BOV commissionedwell-known historian Guido Lanfranco to provide details of the toys and games.
“The toys were very simple – piecesof rope, wooden slats, stones and beads – but there is a lot more to toys thanjust the item itself. For example, hopscotch represents the nine months ofpregnancy,” Guido Lanfranco explained.
“In spite of thesimplicity of the toys, we could not find everything we needed and had toimprovise in some cases. For example, children used to blow bubbles through alength of macaroni but you don’t get long pasta tubes, so we used rolled upcopybooks,” Mr Lanfranco added.
The calendar cleverly juxtaposesyoung children with elderly people who would have had first-hand memories ofthe toys. Photographer Joe P. Smith also staged the photos in locations thatcould easily have come out of post-war Malta – whether unspoiled alleys invillage cores, or open air fields, all of which capture the times when childrencould play outdoors without the fear of traffic and without the distractions ofcomputers.
“The photos were taken in September,that wonderful month when children are still enjoying the summer holidays, whenfriendships are forged for life, and the long days are filled with freedom andfun.
“For me, the look on the face of theelderly people we used for the photos say so much about the memories they hadof those times...” Mr Smith said.
BOV has made two videos about themaking of the calendar and brief information about each game narrated by GuidoLanfranco, which are both available on the bank’s YouTube channel, accessiblevia its website www.bov.com, or via its BOVClub Facebook page.
Żibeġ Various games could be played, where children would compete for beadsdealt out by every individual player. The most common game involves making ashallow depression in the ground (ħofra) into which beads are flicked using thefingers. In some games the colours of the beads have different values.
Karretta u Skuter Like most pre-war toys, these were home made. A set of three or four metalball-bearing wheels were needed for the cart. The rider controlled the steeringblock with slim ropes. The scooter used two or three wheels, was pushed by onefoot which also pressed on a wooden, hinged flap over the hind wheels to act asa brake.
Boċċi Several varieties and forms of games are possible with marbles. Before theadvent of glass marbles, children made do with hazelnuts. Pre-war Codd-Stopperedginger bottles had a plain glass marble as a stopper and children often brokebottles to get it out.
Ħabel Girls play with skipping ropes individually or in groups.In one popular game a girl calls out a series of possible attributes of animaginary future husband as she skips and, when the rope hits her legs, shestops on the word assumed to predict the type of husband she would have.
Tajra The traditional basic model is made from thin, light, coloured paper stretchedover thin strips of cane disposed in a bow and arrow position. The paper usedto be glued with starch or flour heated in a little water. The fancy tail isadded for stability.
Taż-Żiemel Two boys play athorse and rider, one acting as the horse the other as the rider, exchangingroles at intervals. Children enjoyed making the reins themselves, weaving odd,discarded, coloured cotton-wool using pins on a wooden reel. Horse andrider couples often race each other.
Passju The rough diagram with nine, numbered compartments scratched on the groundrepresents the nine months of pregnancy, with the ninth month section drawnwith a bulge. Girls cast a stone from the starting point, hop towards it, totrip it on to the next number. Completing the set results in ‘having a baby’.
Ċirku Any hoop, of any size, free from spokes and hubs, used to be seenfrequently trundled along the ground with the help of a piece of wire bent atone end to guide the rim of the hoop. Boys usually played on their own butsometimes hoop races were organised for the extra thrill.
Bżieżaq tas-Sapun These provided a pastime for all ages. A good mixture of soap in waterblown slowly through a short length of cane tube produced beautiful, colourfulbubbles. Commoner than the cane is a page from an old exercise book rolled,taped and trimmed into a tube.
Żugraga To spin a wooden top children wound a string several times around it andlearned to throw it sharply while holding on to the end of the string. Thismade the top spin for a short while. Humming tops could be readily bought butothers were home-made from wood, hollowed out and started with a string.
Pupa Mothers of most pre-war girls could not afford the luxury of buying dollsbut made rag dolls from odd pieces of cloth and cotton-wool. Girls played‘mother’ with rag dolls and often recruited a boy to join them as the ‘father’normally to be ignored, uninvolved or scolded.
Bombos This popular game could be played in several styles but all involve a boyat the front, well bent forward, whilst the other vaults over him, using hishands, in leap frog fashion. The game continues by alternating leaps and bends.Sometimes two groups run parallel to race each other.
Xixu A small length of wood (formerly used to be an odd wooden bobbin or reel)is placed on a rigid edge on the ground and with a stick or rod is hit sharplyon one end to make it fly as high as possible into the air.