By Mohammed al Balushi
A group of men sitting on the sand captured my attention one day.
“I just snapped a picture of the game. Is it okay?” I wanted their permission.
“Okay, let’s see the picture”, one of them replied.
I showed them the picture and they liked it. This was when they really got into the game.
The game “Al Hawalis” is one of the national games in Oman. Understanding the history of the game and how it is played is something that has to be meticulously researched including where it began and where it got its influences.
Having the chance to sit with these players and get to know their game was a great opportunity. Al Hawalis is a traditional game that is widely played in Batina coastal areas, such as Suhar, Shinas, Al Khabourah, and Barka. The game is also played in Muscat and Sur.
In this game, two players play simultaneously, facing each other. A total of twenty-eight “Khanas/ holes/ checks” are present on each side of the game. During the first round of the game, two “seashells” are placed in each “check”.
“I started playing this game back in the 1960s when I was a young man”, said an old man watching the game enthusiastically.
“I am Jumaa Mahmood from Muttrah, and now I can teach and coach people about this game”, he said.
Historically, this game was played mostly in Muscat which was the hub of trade and business, where merchants exchanged commodities in the coastal areas. Merchants were found in Muscat who came from different parts of the world, like India, Zanzibar, Iran and Makuran.
A man on the bench commented: “It’s impossible to teach this game in one or two days without proper coaching”. He responded as I made my intent to learn the game.
In the game, Mansoor, one of the players, seemed focused and serious. I asked him, “You look very serious, Mansoor?”. “It is a very serious game; the player must be alert and use his brain to anticipate the opponent’s steps”, he said without looking at me.
In this game, I liked how the “seashells” were moved from one check to another. During the game, players have to use their brains elegantly. After over thirty minutes of watching the game, I was fascinated by this.
In this game, a player must be good at thinking and making decisions as one wrong move will lead to the player’s loss”, said the player.