Manuscripts from Burma (Myanmar) in the form of folding books (parabaik) often contain depictions of traditional games and sports such as boxing, martial arts, cock-fighting and chinlone, reflecting popular activities in daily life.
One of the national games of Burma is chinlone, or the cane-ball game, played with a ball made of six hoops of interwoven smoothly-cut cane or rattan. The idea of the game is to try to keep the chinlone up in the air for as long as possible by foot-work, and to not let it drop to the ground. The chinlone can be kicked by the instep, outer and inner sides of the foot, sole, heel and knee, but may not be touched with the hand. It can be played indoors and outdoors, in all seasons and by all ages, and is often played barefoot. Burmese people regard this traditional game as good for exercising leg muscles, building strength and developing body flexibility.
The game of chinlone can be played solo, but it more enjoyable with teams of six players. The team stands in a circle, the players standing three or four feet apart from one another and the chinlone is passed from one to another, by flipping it in the air using a succession of 30 techniques. There are rules for chinlone competitions between teams. The game exercises the body in a way that restores elasticity to the back and limbs, but it is believed that the game is good not only for physical exercise but also for mental control.
Other games depicted in Burmese parabaik include polo, javelin throwing, horse racing and cock fighting. Illustrations in parabaiks show that historically, Burmese royals were very fond of watching polo.
All the scenes of games in these Burmese folding books are painted in water colours and enclosed in yellow panels with a single line or a few words of explanatory text in Burmese script along the bottom border.
In Burma today, the game of chinlone can still be seen being played everywhere, by players young or old, male or damile, in fields and yards or in tournaments. Young girls play hop scotch at school or in playgrounds. Some seasonal festivals in Burma involve athletic competitions, with games such as climbing a greased pole, tugs of war, pulling a rope and pillow fights. In the mid-19th century, western sports such as football, badminton, tennis, volleyball and golf were introduced to Burma.
This article first appeared on British Library’s Asian and African studies blog.