Indigenous games are recreational activities that originated from a particular cultural group, community or people. These games are different from mainstream sports, which are regulated by international federations and have fixed rules. Indigenous games do not have internationally regulated rules for implementation, local organisers determine these according to the customs of the local participants. Thus creating many versions of the same group. Indigenous or traditional games in Meghalaya are an integral part of the tribal communities upholding their culture and way of life. They preserve age-old traditions and stories of the communities. Indigenous games have an origin, which is the story behind the birth of the game.
Many of these practices formed a close association with their livelihood. However, with the advent of modern science and technology such practices took a step back back in the community lives of the tribals. Indigenous sports have been played with fervour and enthusiasm for centuries in Meghalaya. Some have, with time, lost its relevance and significance. The history of games in the subcontinent is very ancient with its origin tracking back to 2000-1000 BC. According to Guinness World Records, polo’s origins in Manipur can be traced to around 3100 BC, when it was played as Sagol Kangjei. Besides, a number of leading games have had its origin in Indian states. Kabaddi in Tamil Nadu and Kho Kho in Maharashtra are such examples.
Some of the prominent indigenous games that have had its times of popularity in the state include Mawpoiñ, Pynshad Latom, Mawdot, Hai-iu, Tan tyllai among many more. Amongst the Garos Roong Sea, Resu Dena, Wapong Sala were very popular games right from centuries. Reflecting on the origins of these games before National Sports Day makes for a relevant issue.
Delving deep into Meghalaya’s rich history of traditional practices passed on to the three major tribal communities, namely the Khasi, Garo and Jaintia, for generations, Sunday Shillong dialogues with District Sports Officer of South West Khasi Hills, Damang Syngkon (DS) revisiting the possibility of reviving these sports. The South Asian Games Gold medal winner in karate (1999) and a four-time national champion, Syngkon gives an insight into how the government is fulfilling its role to promote and preserve these traditional games. Excerpts of the interview:
SS: Indigenous games have lost their significance today among the youth. What steps are the traditional bodies and the government authorities taking to promote and preserve them?
DS: While it is true that a lot of the traditional games have lost their significance with the modern generation of children, traditional games like Mawpoiñ and Rongbiria (traditional archery) are still being played or organised in Meghalaya.
Mawpoiń is one of the few traditional sports that has retained popularity in Meghalaya and generates excitement due to its basic and nature of the game. This game, however, has many versions/interpretations that are played in and around the state and similar versions of this game are also known to have been played elsewhere in the country. Hence, a need arises to have common rules and regulations formulated so as to facilitate the formal and proper regulation of this game during competitions.
SS: Are any of these games officially organised anywhere in the state?
DS: For Mawpoiñ, huge credits should be given to the Seng Khasi who organise competitions annually, as part of their sporting and cultural event called “Aiom Leh Kmen” over the last 50 years. It was from these annual competitions, organised by the Seng Khasi, that the formal rules and regulations were initially drafted. These rules have been formally submitted to the Directorate of Sports & Youth Affairs to streamline the conduct of these games
SS: Are there any prospects of including these sports in the Meghalaya Games?
DS: Mawpoiñ was featured as a demonstration game during the North East Games, 2010 in Shillong, Meghalaya. As of today, the Directorate of Sports & Youth Affairs has highlighted the importance of promoting and popularising indigenous games through its schemes and therefore Mawpoiñ and other traditional Garo Games competitions are now held regularly in the different districts and also an awareness of the formal rules and regulations of the games is growing among the youths and the participants. Mawpoiñ still has a long way to go before it finds its place in the Meghalaya Games. The mindset of the people will have to shift from one where Mawpoiñ is just a common old game, to one where people can practise and seriously compete in a sporting discipline. With the established rules and regulations in place as well as its growing popularity, we hope that Mawpoiñ will one day make the transition from a common game to a popular sport.
SS: Will South West Khasi Hills witness something special on National Sports Day?
DS: Yes. The Office of the District Sports Officer, South West Khasi Hills will be conducting the 2nd Edition of the Inter School Mawpoiñ Competition as part of the National Sports Day Celebrations where 330 students and 33 schools have already registered for participation.
SS: Have you ever played any of these traditional games yourself?
DS: I have participated in several Mawpoiñ competitions as a child, and today I am motivated to organise and promote these competitions.
SS: Why do you think people today have shifted from traditional games to modern ones?
DS: In my opinion, people deviating from traditional games to modern ones is inevitable as most of the traditional games lack coherent rules and regulations, are largely unorganised and have variations from one region/area to another. Also, I can only speculate that the global appeal and professionalism of modern sports is something that everyone is drawn towards, especially children.
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