[Page 508] Related to the Arabian ta·b.
The Lots - Billets are used in the manner of dice. They are made from a stick about 85cm. long and nearly 1cm. across, which is cut longitudinally and transversely into four equal sections, each of which has a convex side covered with "black" bark, and a flat one showing the "white" wood. One pair of them being held in each hand, they are briskly knocked against each other, and left to fall on the ground with a gyratory motion. The five possible combinations which may occur are called:
A billet lying on its side is called a gŕ·r; it is counted as white if the game is played during the day time, as black if it is night time.
After throwing a sětte, a dčleb, or a gŕsse, the same person goes on playing, but after a dug or a txlx·dx he must hand over the sticks to the next player.
The Field - Four parallel lines are drawn on the ground, and are intersected by others as shown below:
Twenty cross-lines are a convenient number, but there may be fewer or more - even four or five times as many. The two middle longitudinal lines (B and C) are called bad, "sea".
The Men - The points of junction of the cross-lines with the lines A and D are covered with two sets of stones of distinctive colours or kinds.
The Players - The players may be 2, 4, 6, 8, or more, and divide into two equal teams. Each child takes his turn after his left-hand neighbour, so that partners (who all squat, on the same side) play in succession.
The Start - One side chooses "dčleb" and the other "dug". A member of each team throws two of the billets; this is repeated, if necessary, until either a dčleb (3 black + 1 white) or a dug (2 black + 2 white) turn up to decide which team will be the first to try its luck.
[Page 509] Entering the game - No player is admitted into the game proper until he has successfully passed through the three following introductory stages:
(1) He plays with the four billets: if he throws a dug or it txlx·dx, his turn is ended, and he hands over the billets to his neighbour; if a sětte or a gŕsse turns up, he goes on throwing; as soon as a dčleb appears he counts "one dčleb" and immediately passes on to the second stage.
(2) He plays with three billets: if he casts either three black, or two black and one white, he adds a dčleb to his score, and goes on playing; if three white turn up, he counts a gŕsse and goes on playing; but as soon as one black and two white appear he passes into the third stage.
(3) He now plays with two billets: if he has the misfortune of getting two black (hab), all the dčleb and gŕsse he may have scored are lost, and he will have to start the whole process over again when his next turn comes; if he gets two white, he counts a gŕsse and reverts immediately into the second stage; but if he casts one white and one black (dag), he enters definitely into the game by making good whatever dčleb and gŕsse he may have summed up, and he hands all billets to his neighbour. Henceforth he will always play with the whole set of four sticks.
Move of the Men -The men progress along the longitudinal lines, in boustrophedon. One team moves its first piece A1 successively to B1, B2, B3 ... B20, C20 ... C1, D1 ... D20, when the man becomes a badmx·h, "sea-farer," and comes back through C20 ... C1, B1 ... B20, A20 ... etc. The other team advances D20 to C20 ... C1, B1, and so forth.
The number of points to move is determined by the throws: a dčleb counts as 1, a dug as 2, a txlx·dx as 3, a gŕsse as 4, and a sětte as 6. The boys do not count these points by means of the Somali numerals, but use special words: to count 3 they say: tůh, tŕh, txlx·dx; to count 4: gŕsse ("reddish"), bů·ri ("tobacco"), dzčmana ("coffee-pot "), sónkor ("sugar"); to count 6: inna sč·ra, wŕha, ŕrab, qŕmma, qabsej ("he caught "). A player usually waits until a dug or a , txlx·dx has brought his turn to an end, before he moves any stone; in this way, he can dispose of his throws with greater discrimination. The number of points given by each throw cannot be distributed among different pieces; it must he executed in full or not at all; but the order in which the throws occurred does not matter.
Liberating the Men - As long as a man occupies its original position, it is a "slave" (horič·l). It is not allowed to travel until it has been freed, i.e. before it has been moved one single step (A1 to B1, A2 to A1, etc., D20 to C20, D19 to D20, etc.). This can only be done by means of a dčleb, and each team is obliged to use all their dčleb for this purpose until all their men have been thus liberated.
Taking Men - A man can pass over other men of its own kind, but not over an enemy. If a throw of the billets brings it to the exact place occupied by a man of the other team, he "eats" it, i.e. removes it from the game and takes his place. The aim of the game is to eat up every one of the opponents' men.
Storing the dčleb - When one team has liberated all its men, it, is free to turn its dčleb to any use it likes; it can even store them up for use at some critical moment, e.g. for putting out [Page 510] of danger a man which is actually preyed upon by the opponents. Only dčleb can be stored up in this way; but one can always forgo any other gains if it is found safer to do so.
Double Men - A man can be left by the side of another of its own kind; henceforth the two companions move together as if they were a single man; but they also run the risk of being "eaten together." Only a dčleb can separate them again if desired.
Handicapped Players - If a boy has been unable to enter the game proper, and all the pawns on his own side have been librated, he is saved any further endeavour to pass through the three introductory stages; but for the whole duration of the game, no attention will be paid to any of his throws with the exception of the dčleb he may happen to cast.
Last update January 7, 2010