Anu Vissel. Tartu

Introduction. Current popularity

Today ball games are a popular pastime among children. We can prove it by observing the everyday life and by studying the folklore collections of the recent years, especially the collections of schoolchildren's lore from 1992. The statistical analysis of this collection shows that among the kinetic games, ball games (without sport games) are very popular, exceeding to 46% of kinetic games (Diagram 1), while running games made 30%, jumping games 20%, skill demonstrating games 2%, other throwing games 2%.1

Some remarks on history

Ball games are rather a specific genre of games. The data from the folk games collection of 1934-35 indicates that it is not a particularly old genre in the Estonian tradition. Answers to a questionnaire (Viidalepp 1934,22 no. 64) show that ball games as we know them today appeared rather late, i.e. in the last quarter of the 19th century2 and were made popular via physical education classes at school in 1910-20. In the earlier tradition the ball and playing the ball were not unknown, though. The way of playing was different: a small home-made ball (of animal fur, birch fungus, textile rags, etc.) was rolled on the ground (Kitse lauta ajamine 'chasing the goat to the shed', etc.), or it was hit with sticks above the ground (laptuu). Some of these games were played on fixed calendar feasts, e.g. a game similar to field hockey kada ajamine (Hiiemae 1985,28) was played on Ash Wednesday.

Sport games and folk games

Today the role of sport games3 is continuously growing in the repertoire of children's ball games (Dolganova, Morozov, Minasenko 1995, 10). Football (soccer)4, rahvastepall 'peoples' ball game', basket ball, volley ball, handball, baseball, badminton, etc. are played during the classes of physical training, coaching, and during free time for amusement. Ten most popular ball games are Mädamuna 'Bad Eggs', football, basket ball, rahvaste pall and Vibra, volley ball, handball, Oi-lii, oi-laa, Viis miinust 'Five minuses', Pallikool (Playing Ball Against the Wall), Kartui or Kuum kartul 'Hot Potato', Koer 'Dog', Söödav ja mittesöödav, Konn 'Frog' (Vissel 1995,261/2). Though Mädamuna was mentioned the most, the leading role in the children's repertoire falls on sport games. But the ball games disseminated traditionally are more varied and contain local variants.

Sport games have to fit into the period and conditions of recess (Lipponen 1995, 209), e.g. they are played in school-house corridors, batteries have to serve as goals, the team might be smaller and they play only on one part of the field with a neutral goal-keeper.

Corridor football. If the recess seems too long, you can shorten it with football. Depending on the width of the corridor the team consists of 5-10 pupils. Usually teams compete and try to pass the ball to the same goal, whereas the goal-keeper must be neutral! As a ball you may use a crumpled plastic sandwich cover, koroona discs or tennis-balls. In the latter case you must be careful, because a tennis ball is light enough to fly and break some windows. (RKM, KP 12, 313 (6) < Tallinn 7th Sec. School, Form 10 b - Raul Aarma (1992))

Sometimes (though in rare cases) football or basket ball may only be imitated as a pantomime. The example was recorded in a school in Tallinn:

 Sometimes we tried to play basketball without a ball and basket in the corridor. Usually the game was the following. Gert stands by the wall and imitates throwing something to Rainer. Rainer imitates catching, and begins to imitate bouncing. Jüri who belongs to the opposite team tries to hinder his bouncing. Then Rainer throws behind Jüri's back to me. Kristjan tries to pick it up, but fails, I "catch" the ball and try to pass it through the basket. Usually Heiti jumps up and hinders with his hand the ball going through the basket (puts the "dipper" on) and then we can dispute on the scoring for a long time. My position and Heiti's jump and his stature must be taken into account. Some teachers took us to be crazies, some of them scolded, some of them laughed at us, some of them thought we would soon get tired of playing. (RKM, KP 50,20 (31) < Tallinn 37. Sec. School, Form 10 - Jaagup Kippar, b. 1976 (1992))  

The role of games disseminated traditionally is rather big among the games played by school children. The majority of ball games require a permanent or diminishing number of players, and the most skillful player is the winner. In this kind of group games the "me-the others" relationship functions, not the "us-you" relationship common to team-games. Each player tries to avoid any errors because the player does not score points by succeeding, but the one making errors gets punished, which is characteristic to folk games (Opie 1984, 8), and the scoring of errors is mostly figurative (instead of minus points - "bad", "egg", "life", or a letter for coining a mockery5 name, etc.). A certain amount of errors results in falling out of the game, or the player being renamed.

Ball games which are disseminated in the traditional way may be categorized into individual, group or team games.


This group includes tests of skill or exercises with a ball, and they are often carried out in numerous rounds. The one who passes successfully all the rounds will be the winner. Players may use a tennis-ball or a rubber ball of similar size, and the ordinary ball is used as well. Generally the ball games may be distinguished into girls' games and boys' games. Kakskümmend üks 'Twenty One'6 (also Kuningas 'King' or Pallikuningas 'Ball King') is mainly boys' game7 where the player must bounce the ball on his foot, knee, fist or head for a certain number of times8.

 Kakskümmend üks was also rather often played. It was mostly the boys' game. It means that the players (2,3,4...n) had to kick the ball up (decided beforehand) on the knee or stretched foot, whereby the ball was not allowed to fall down. If it fell, it was to be the turn of the next player. The exercise was to kick it up 21 times, and it was not important to do it in a row. It often happened that you could kick 3 times and the second round you added as many kicks as you could. You had to reach the number 21 times and then back to zero (19, 18, 17...0). For making the game more exciting, there were some obstacles too. For example, if the player did 7 kicks he fell automatically back to zero. The same happened with 13. In addition to that there were numbers which forced the player to sit out a round. (RKM, KP 12, 484/5 (10) < Tallinn 7th Sec. School, Form 11 a - Raili Loit (1992))  

The international girls' game Pallikool ('Ball School' = Playing Ball Against the Wall) was rather popular in Estonia in the 1930s already (see Map 1). One of the first descriptions was published in 1879 in the book of games by E. Saare with the title "Palli püide harjutused" (Exercises for catching the ball) (Saare 1879,32/3). Today Pallikool is known but seldom played. In the older game tradition a distinction was made between Pallikool with a "teacher"9, and Seinakümnendik 'Tens Against the Wall', but today only the latter is played as Pallikool, The former10 has been replaced by a social ball-game Ai-lii, ai-loo which has evolved on the basis of the same game (see group games). This diffusion appears already in the references from the 1930s, and it occurs also in the Russian tradition. The individual game form of pallikool is played in Russia vertically upwards, each throw mode is repeated three times and gradually higher (Byleyeva, Grigoryev 1985, 32). The names of the game played against the wall concurred in Estonian (Kümned, Kümnendikud, etc.) and in Russian (Desiati, Desiatki, Ob stenku) (Byleyeva, Grigoryev 1985, 31) in the older tradition.

The game rounds in Pallikool are called classes. The exercise is different in each class. Two different ways of playing are used: in each class a similar number of exercises are carried out (3, 4, 10 times, or according to the player's age), or the number of exercises diminishes in each following class. The same pattern is used in the Russian material (Grigoryev 1984, 31). In general the exercises go from the easier to the more complicated ones. In the first exercise the ball is thrown against the wall with two hands, and when it bounces back it is caught the same way. Then follow throws with one hand, underhand, under a raised leg and a bent knee, the ball is kicked against the wall, bounced, hands are clapped for certain times between the throw and the catch, the player swings around, etc. There are 10, sometimes 9 or 1111 classes 15. In Estonia the classes are named after the serial number, or the number of times for doing the exercise, e.g. class 1 - Tens, class 2 -Nines. Other traditions may distinguish them according to the action. For example, Irish children call the class where the player has to catch the ball that bounces from the wall to the ground "downy" (Brady 1984, 61). The Udmurts call the exercise where the ball has to be thrown against the wall so that it bounces upwards and is caught after it has bounced once on the ground kuz' podvodèn (Dolganova, Morozov, Minasenko 1995, 81). Judging by folklore collections and also written memories (Ojasoo 1984, 65) the game has not changed much during the last 50 years, just an exam has been added to the game: the exercises of all classes have to be carried out once in sequence. The one who successfully passes it is the winner.


The number of players (two minimum) and their formation (circle, line, column, dispersed) in this category is not firmly fixed, the playground is often unmarked, the action is rather simple (throwing, catching, rolling), each player competes for her/himself. If anyone falls out of the game, the chance for others to win grows.

Pallikull 'Ball Tag' is one of the more popular types of tag playing today (Vissel 1995,275).

 Pallimats. It is played in a group. Before starting the tag is counted out. The child who becomes the tag chases the rest. S/he tries to hit them with the ball, but the others are running away. If s/he hits somebody the careless player will chase the others her/himself. The game is interesting because if the ball rolls far away the players can relax a little. In this game the tag must run and sweat very much. The player who is hit several times (determined beforehand) has to hit the other players a number of times before s/he gets out of being the tag. (RKM II 306, 377 (5) < Vodja 8-grade School - Kersti Sibul, 14(1972/3))  

There might be other restrictions for the tag (e.g. s/he has to bounce the ball while moving).

The currently played ball games include a number of games with an archaic pattern, where the players in circle throw the ball to each other (Avedon, Sutton-Smith 1979, 67). E.g. Tuline pall 'Burning Ball', also called Kuum kartul 'Hot Potato'. The player who looses the ball (touches it, but drops it) has to leave the game. In the following the roles of players may become differentiated (group players versus a single, or lead-player); restrictions may be included (the ball is not thrown to the single player); the conduct of players may be determined (the single player is the one who is ignored, attacked, or the one who attacks); the number of participants, or the effect of making errors may be changed; etc. For example, an error causes a certain penalty. This pattern is found in the internationally known volley-ball version Kartul or Persik (in English Hot Potato) which is used as a lead-up game to team sports (Blake, Volp 1964, 159). Here the player who has missed has to step in the centre of the circle, and if s/he catches the ball, the player who lost it has to step inside. The player in the centre may be forced to squat, bend over, etc., and the others may "bomb" her/him. The following description renders both the rules and the context (playing situation, attitude towards the centre).

While waiting for the touring bus in the morning or during a free hour while we waited for the choir practice to begin, we played Kartul. There was no winner or loser in this game. These who wanted to play made a circle and started to tap the ball as in the volley-ball. These who let the ball fall on the ground had to go to the centre and squat down. When the ball was flying the squatter could jump up and try to catch the ball. If the player succeeded s/he joined a circle again and the player who lost the ball went to the centre. Usually several bunglers were skipping there. They had to hold each other. If any of them caught the ball, all the squatters might go back to the circle and the last to tap ball went to the centre alone. It was very exciting because it was allowed to bomb the players in the centre. If the bomber could strike the ball against those in the centre so that the ball rebounded to the ground without being caught, s/he could stay in the circle. Sometimes those in the centre did not succeed in catching and there remained only two players in the circle. Then they continued until one of them erred. The latter went to the centre and the others made circle around her/him. Usually none wanted to play the Kartul for a long time. (RKM, KP 50, 44/5 (66) < Tallinn 37th Sec. School, Form 10 - Jaagup Kippar, b. 1976 (1992))

In recent years one popular ball game among children has been Koer 'Dog' which is similar to the previous games, but includes three players. Two players throw the ball over the third one so that s/he cannot catch it. If the player in the centre happens to catch the ball, the one who lost it has to change places with her/him (see Fig. 2). Sometimes the play-ground is marked: the centre player stays inside the marked area, the other two outside it, or the other way round.

Although there are some descriptions of that game among the material collected in the 1930s (Rott, Keskmine, Lennust püük, Tabamismäng, Pallieksitaja), the current popularity is probably brought along by the Russian language community. The present name refers to it, coinciding with the Russian tradition12 (Byleyeva, Grigoryev 1985, 32), and it is also more widely known in eastern Estonia (lisaku, Meremäe) and in bigger towns, where their community is fairly large. According to M. Zapletal, an analogous game is familiar to the western Slavs (Zapletal 1984, 73, no. 220).

In the case of Kõrvetaja 'Scorcher', we have an intermediate stage between group games and team games, where the game takes place between increasing and decreasing numbers (Isop 1991, 17). All players are inside the circle, "except the scorcher" who aims at hitting those inside the circle with a ball. The ones hit leave the circle and start assisting the scorcher, and thus the number of players inside the circle decreases, whereas the number of players assisting the scorcher increases.

Games with a figurative account of errors

The excluding of erred players is characteristic of many game types (running games, jumping games, etc.), but in ball games one usually earns on the account of the made errors a mockery name (letter by letter). Such figurative account of errors prolonges the game, and provides a humorous atmosphere. Such games are usually played by younger children (Villandi 1995,302), and they are often called according to the mockery name. The latter are chosen by animals and birds (considered hopelessly dumb, lazy or boring) - siga 'pig', eesel 'ass', kajakas 'seagull' or naerukajakas 'black-headed gull', particularly in coastal regions, or simply by comic words - kapsas ' cabbage ', juhm 'dumb', etc. In the Estonian tradition the most common and oldest is the game Siga, which provides an opportunity to err four times. Sometimes two additional errors are allowed: a dot on the "i", and full-stop after the name. When the players get tired of one name, it is changed (hobune 'horse', lammas 'lamb', lehm 'cow', pagan 'pagan', koll 'monster', loll 'fool', etc.), or an epithet is added (e.g. siga poegadega 'pig with piglets'). The mockery names may occur in international use, e.g. eesel 'ass' (see Brady 1984, 68; Zapletal 1984, 65, etc.). The shorter version of the game lasts until a player acquires the first mockery name, the longer version is won by the player who has acquired the smallest number of letters. Sometimes the name is followed by certain tasks, e.g. in lisaku "the pig" has to run grunting around a mark or other players. The variant known in North and Central Estonia. Naerukajakas differs from the main variant, here the players have to freeze in the posture they had at the moment the ball hit the ground. The first letter goes to the player, who is the first to move or utter a sound. The rule to freeze occurs also in the game Pallikuju 'Ball Statue', known in Lääne-Nigula and Vändra in the 30s, but then only the player who made the error had to freeze. In Lääne-Nigula s/he had to remain in the taken posture until the next player erred. In the Vändra variant with "the teacher" the game continued until the last ordinary player froze into a posture. At present the choosing of a new lead-player by the most beautiful posture occurs in the girls' Keerukuju 'Spinning Statue'.

The girls aged 9-14 play today a ball game called Konn 'Frog', by Russian children it is called Koza 'Goat', where the ball is thrown against the wall, and the players have to hop astride over it when it bounces back13.

 For Konn there must be a ball and at least four players. You must throw the ball against the wall and hop over the rebounding ball with legs straddled. If you fail and the ball touches you then you have an error, and you must wait by the wall until there is only one player who not erred. This player throws the ball to the player who first made an error and the latter must throw the ball three time against the wall backwards. If the former catches all three balls the latter merits a K. But if s/he does not catch the ball, the thrower does not merit it. The game continues until someone becomes KONN. (RKM, KP 7, 46/7 (3) < lisaku Sec. School, Form 5 - Moonika Maasik, b. 1981 (1992))  

The game is very popular among Ukrainian girls who call \\.Kolomyiki (Byleyeva, Grigoryev 1985, 109). The first part of the exercise is the same, but then the next player must catch the ball. The erred players have to stand by the wall. In Tartu Russian girls played their variant so, that the player had to go to the wall when she had erred 4 times (e.g. got the name koza). The player could leave the wall if she managed to catch the ball thrown against it. (Video 43.11.14 - 7th form girls of Tartu Sec. School No. 4 - E. Kalmre, E. Sinijärv (1993))

Boys play ball games against the wall, using the football pattern, few of them include a figurative account of errors - Ameerika, or Tallinn. The players stand in a column or at random, and the ball is kicked by foot. One player kicks, the other stops the ball and kicks it against the wall in turn. After three kicks which miss the wall, the player gets a penalty letter. Sometimes the number of how many times the ball may be touched is limited. The game has a shorter version (the looser gets all the letters of "Ameerika"), or a longer one (the winner does not get the full word).

The fieldwork results of both 1935 and 1992 offered Mädamuna 'Bad Egg'14 as the most popular game. It had the longest exercise and the most complicated rules. The basic pattern of the game has remained the same, but the structure has become more complicated. It is played both by boys and girls, but the additional moments are characteristic to the girls. In the 1930s the game was called simply Muna 'Egg', and it had many local variants (see Map 2) which are mostly forgotten today. The only new local name "Tark mees taskust välja!" ('Clever Man out of the Pocket!') can be met in the West of Estonia.

 The players stood in the circle drawn on the ground. In the centre a player threw the ball up and called out a player's name. The latter had to catch the ball and then shout "stop!". All other players ran off and had to stop after the catcher shouted. If the called out person could catch the ball without touching the ground s/he could throw it up again and call out the an other name. But if the ball fell down /—/, s/he had to take three long steps towards a player and ask her/him: "Bird, leaf or tree?" If the answer was "bird", the player to be attacked could run away while the former was throwing the ball at her/ him. S/he had to run inside the drawn circle. There was the home. If the answer was "leaf, s/he could move her/himself a little keeping the feet in place. If s/he chose "tree" it was necessary to stand still. If the attacker hit the tree, the "tree" had to try to hit another player. If s/he failed s/he got an "egg". If you had already 3-5 eggs, somebody started to read an alphabet and somebody said "stop!". According to the letter s/he stopped at the nickname was chosen. For example L: lammas 'sheep', lusikas 'spoon', etc. Then the player could be called only by the new name. Who called her/him with the real name got an "egg" her/himself. (RKM, KP 22, 459/60 (4) < Pämu 2nd Sec. School, Form 10 b - Helen Eliste, b. 1976 (1992))  

        *If the game descriptions are compared, the following varied details appear.

        The play-ground centre is marked by a circle, or a double circle is drawn around it, it is marked by a square, seldom by a stone. Sometimes the ball is thrown on the roof instead of the centre (Ojasoo 1984, 61).

        * Usually only the lead-player stands inside the circle, in the case of a double circle, the other players stand in the outer circle (one foot or both feet in).

        * When the lead-player throws the ball up, s/he calls out the name of a player. In Abj a the call was "Bad Egg to N!", in Lehtse a word starting with the same letter as the name was used.

        * The ball has to be thrown straight upwards, otherwise it does not count.

        In the 30s the player who caught the ball aimed at the other (the closest) from the spot. Later a certain number of steps (3 to 5) have been allowed for coming closer. In recent years the lead-player asks the number of steps from the player aimed at. Particular "units of steps"15 are used: tibu 'chicken', kärbes 'fly' - half of sole-length, kana 'hen' -sole-length, hiiglane 'giant', elevant 'elephant' - very long step, vähk 'crayfish' - one has to step backwards, kukk 'rooster' - step like a rooster, konn 'frog' - hop like a frog, joodik 'drunkard', klimp 'lump' - spit with each step, etc. In the game by Russian girls, the player stands backwards, while determining whom to aim, and how many steps to take. When all other players stand too far, the one with the ball may throw it up, thus taking "the bad egg" to her/himself. When s/he gets the ball again, "the bad egg" goes to the one hit.

        * The player aimed at may choose between postures: s/he stands still (puu 'tree', or kuju 'statue', seldom kivi 'rock'); sways on the spot (leht 'leaf'); may run from the ball (lind 'bird', seldom jänes 'hare', or vabamaa 'free land'). The same rule applies to Keerukuju: the one who is spun around may choose whether it is done slowly (suhkur 'sugar'), with medium speed (sool 'salt'), or with high speed (pipar 'pepper'). Recent years very popular element has become throwing the ball through the "basket".

        * When a player reaches the allowed number of errors, s/he has to leave the game, or gets the name "bad egg" (Kalamees 1973, 55). Today the giving of the name is a particular ritual: the first letter may be determined by drawing lots on the alphabet, or it is asked from the player;

the more recent pattern is that each finger gets a name, and the player chooses one at random.

The elements of Mädamuna have been used to start Pallikull in West Estonia, while choosing the lead-player, for example (the ball is thrown up and the name of the player or stop is called, the others must freeze on the spot).

Games with scoring the points

These are the most recent and popular boys' games {Vlis miinust 'Five Minuses ',Seifse 'Seven', Kümme 'Ten', Viiskummend' 'Fifty', Kolmsada 'Three Hundred', Tuhat 'Thousand'16, etc.). The player who scores the maximum of minuses named in the title, leaves the game. Some of these games have been played in Estonia for 25 years, others for 6-7 years.

Viis miinust (Viis minni, Viiekas, Viitekas, Viis) is known all over Estonia, and it differs from Ameerika by only the scoring of errors The oldest descriptions date from 1973, the football and basketball versions are played The football version is played against the wall The order of players is agreed upon, or lots are drawn The first player determines the distance from the wall (it might be marked) The number of "touches" is fixed Minuses are scored if the ball does not hit the wall or the player touches it more times than allowed Successful kicks may sometimes give additional kicks If the ball rolls too far, it must be carried back between the knees, which scores one "touch"

The basketball version is played on special field, under a ring in the home yard, or close to the roof. Girls play it also.

 Basketball is played The turn of the players is determined The first player chooses the distance from the basket If he scores, the next player must throw from the same place A miss in throwing gives a minus point If the first player does not score, the next player can choose a new place to throw. If all the players have thrown two rounds from the same place, the first player can choose a new place. (RKM, KP 8, 8/9 (2b) < Tallinn 7th Sec. School, Form 4 s - Kristjan-Jaak Kangur, b. 1982 (1992))  

In the recent years a popular game among boys aged 9-14 is Vibra (Vibla, Fiiber, Tribia, Ruut 'Square', Neljaruutu, NelinurK). Boys favour it because it provides them with an opportunity to train attention and reaction. Play-ground squares are sometimes marked on asphalt even permanently with white paint. The archive material proves that it was unknown in Estonia before the summer of 1988, but it became the most popular boys' game at once. It is loaned to Estonia via the Russian language community. It has been a popular game for years in Ukraine, for example (Byleyeva, Grigoryev 1984, 114).

Vibra is a football type boys' game (Villandi 1995,303). The square shape play-ground is divided into four equal squares, with a starting circle in the centre17. There are usually 4 players in their squares. If the play-ground is bigger, there might be 2-3 players in a square, all in all 8-12 boys. But even only 2 players may play on 2 squares. If a player falls out, he may be substituted by an other.

The squares are determined, or lots are drawn, squares are numbered clockwise, or counter-clockwise. Each player defends his own square and attacks the others. When the ball has bounced 3 times after the opening throw, the game may start, the one who kicks it too early, scores a minus. The kicked ball has to touch another square before falling out of the play ground.

The most popular ball games are football and Vibra (or Nelinurk). In Vibra the play-ground is divided into 4 equal squares. There is a player in every square (if it is a double game then there are two players in every square) and the player chosen by the lot or agreement kicks the ball to the square of the opposite player.

The opposite player must catch the ball in the air (it is not allowed to touch it with hand) and kick the ball to another square so that it does not go out of the playground. Usually it is allowed to touch the ball only once when you stop the ball and pass it forward.

It is played until somebody gets 21 minus points. He has lost the game. The minus points are got for kicking the ball out of the square. But the player gets no minuses if the ball touches another player's square before rolling out.

The ball's moving direction out of the player's square. The player himself gets the minus points.

 The ball's moving direction out through another player's square. The minus point goes to the person from whose square the ball goes out. (RKM, KP 9, 150/4(1) < Tallinn 7th Sec. School, Form 7 b -TeetTargo, 13(1992))  
A minus is given to the player whose square the ball touches before falling out18. The number of points scored depends on whether the ball was kicked with the foot, the knee, the chest, or the head19. The maximum points are scored with the vibra-kick - a kick with the inner foot from behind the other heel (see Photo 2). This detail has given the name to the game, except in Tallinn, where Nelinurk or Ruut is a direct translation from Russian kvadrat 'square'. In the Ukrainian tradition this particular kick is missing (Byleyeva, Gngoryev 1984,114/5) The player who scored, makes the opening throw again The game is usually played until a player scores 21 minus points The game is continued in different ways all players move along to a next square, the player with maximum minuses is substituted with another player; the one with maximum minuses stays in the same square.

Social ball games

There are several girls' ball games, where the exercise with the ball is rather simple, but a riddle or quiz-type additional task is added Such games are favored both by younger and older girls In the recent years the most popular is Ai-lu, ai-loo (Oi-hi, oi-laa or Timbu-hmbu) The name originates from the refrain of an internationally known song20.

 Oi-lh, oi-laa. The players stood or sat and one player thought out a word. In the beginning she tells the first letter of that word For example, the make of car "Audi" Then you say the first letter ("And the last one, too," adds somebody not far from her) And she begins to ask so that she throws the ball to the players in turns When the receiver throws the ball back to the lead-player she must answer If she cannot, she throws the ball back without saying anything If the lead-player reaches to the end of the line without anyone guessing the word, she must tell the second letter And then she must start again from the beginning of the line If somebody guesses the word, the lead-player throws the ball up and shouts "Oi-ln, oi-laa, oi-tral-lal-laa!" The player who guessed the word catches the ball At the same time the lead-player runs as far as she can The player with the ball calls out "Stop'" The lead-player stops and shapes a "basket" with her hands and the catcher must get a score The former does it so (the informant joins her hands roundly in front other chest) If she succeeds, she can ask a new word, but if she fails, then the lead-player can do it (DAT 47 (5) 6th form girls of Valga Gymnasium -A. Vissel (1995))  

This game is comparable to many older traditional games Solving of riddles appears in various social games, e g in a writing gsmePoomine 'Hanging' The throws by the lead-player remind the version of Pallikool With "the teacher" The end of the game is similar to Madamuna (distance is determined by steps). In some places these two games have merged:

 Oi-lii, oi-laa. You throw the ball up and say another player's name who must catch the ball. The player catches the ball and shouts out "Oi-lii, oi-laa\" and adds somebody's name. The mentioned player catches it. Mädamuna is played as well. (RKM II 463, 307/8 (34) < Viru-Nigula parish, Koila village - M. Hiiemäe < Egle Reimer, 8 (1994))  

A similar game to Pallikool is Söö või ära söö! 'eat or do not eat', where the ball thrown by the lead-player may be caught only if s/he calls out a word which denotes something edible. If the answer is correct, the player may step up one line of the stripes drawn on the ground, or take the place of the lead-player. In Narva it is played as a game of forfeits.

The game Ma tean viie... 'I know five...' is also learned from the Russians (Byleyeva, Grigoryev 1985, 31/2). While bouncing the ball on the ground, the player enumerates the names of different kinds of beings or things (of girls, boys, towns, countries, trees, flowers, fruits, domestic or wild animals or birds, cars, etc.). Five names of each kind have to be mentioned. Here is also an analogy with a written word game, e.g. lind, loom... 'bird, animal...'.

 You can play Ma tean viie tüdruku nime 'I know five girls' names' with ball. A player takes the ball and begins to bounce it saying: "I know five girls' names: the first - Reelika, the second - Triin, the third - Jana, the fourth - Svea, the fifth - Piret." After that she must tell the boys' names, etc. If she mixes up their sequence, it will be the turn of the next player. (RKM, KP 4, 145 (2) < Loksa 1st Sec. School, Form 6 - Ethel Makuhhin (1992))  

If the game includes classes, then there are five of them, and the number of names coincides with the class number (first - one, second - two, etc.).

 This game is played while bouncing the ball. There must be a word for every bounce. If she mixes up the bouncing or tells the wrong word, she gets an error. The next player starts. It is recited so: I know a girls' name: it is...; I know a (name of) domestic fowl: it is...; I know a (name of) domestic animal: it is ...; I know a (name of) forest bird: it is ...; I know a (name of) wild animal: it is ... The sequence of the objects must not be mixed up. So you can play as long you want. If you manage the first round, then you can go to the next form: "I know two boy's names..." And so it continues: three, four, five...(RKM, KP 7, 379/80 (1) < lisaku Sec. School, Form 6 -Evi Rebina (1992))  


There were next to no team games collected by the children, except rahvaste pall (Isop 1991,18). The disappearance of team games among the traditionally disseminated ball games may be explained by the general popularity of sport games. Laptuu which was equally popular with Mädamuna in the 30s has been forgotten nowadays. The few exceptional references indicated that the game was learned during the classes of physical training.



The popularity of ball games has grown during the recent years. Despite the enormous influence of sport games, the children aged 7-14 still play various internationally spread traditional ball games. If compared to the 30s, the modem tradition is more standardized: local versions and names have usually disappeared, particularly distinct modern local characteristics appear very seldom. Nowadays group games dominate in the Estonian tradition, the number of individual games is few, team games belong to sport games or among locally known games learned from written sources. The group game is characterized by figurative account of errors, on type level diachronic development is observed, games become more complicated. The basic exercise of the game remains the same, but a varied complex of dialogues and additional episodes is combined with it. Some games (e.g. Pallikool) have been substituted by new international versions (Ai-lii, ai-loo) in recent years. In the structure of currently popular ball games there are various motifs and elements which occur also in other types of games (running, jumping, blindman's buff, word, writing, etc. games). Newer ball games are largely influenced by sport games: particular game technique, scoring of points in numbers (not errors), restricted play-ground. A ball game is a pastime favored especially by boys, but ball games played by girls and social games occur as well. Boys' games are more robust, girls' games are more connected to social games, thus having additional exercises to the ones with the ball. In the case of ball games rather strong Slavic, particularly Russian and Ukrainian influences appear, and more so than in other game genres, reflecting the communication possibilities of the last fifty years.

Translated by Kristin Kuutma


1) The rest of throwing games in this article also include both stone-throwing games and older golf- and softball-like games.

2) You can find descriptions of ballgames of that time from many gamebooks, many of them following Russian example, for example: Liiv, 1879, E. Saare, 1902, Rull, 1911.

3) Characteristic of a sport game is a fixed number of players, a playground of definite measures, common rules, regular calendar of contests, the specialisation of the players on one game and giving degrees of sport. (Isop 1991, 18).

4) "Bad Egg" was the fifth and "Soccer" the seventh in popularity.

5) Here they in most cases do not cover the colloquial terms denoting mistake or error (for example, aps in hopscotch and twist, eye in cardgames, etc.).

6) There is a cardgame is of the same name

7) M. Zapletal performs this game under the name "Indian skill-test" referring to a girls' game of the shaienn tribe (Zapletal 1984, p. 72 No. 215).

8) Games with forbidden numbers can be found in several social and clapping games, for example Põrr.

9) The "teacher" throws the ball in turns to other players who then catch it and throw back to the teacher. After performing the exam successfully the player is forwarded to the next class, that is the next line.

10) In recent years the game form with the teacher is rare. Sometimes it is played on the staircase ("The Game on the Staircase"). There is analogous getting to the next class in the stone school where the "pupils" must guess I which hand does the teacher hold the stone.

11) Lately the Udmurts have 13-15 different figures, but in the years 1930-1940 they were restricted with ten. (Dolganovaetal. 1995, 157).

12) According to the same authors, instead of the name "Dog" - 'Koer' (V sobachki) the name Miach v vozdukhe and He davai miacha vodiashchemu, are used. They are played with a larger group of participants (3-30).

13) This could be viewed as a game deriving from a tenth of wall.

14) From printed sources we can find a description of that game in a book by E. Saare (Saare 1902, 72/4) from under a yard version of the game circle ball (ringpall): "Those in the circle throw the ball over the one in the middle, the ballcatcher, calling out the name of the one to whom the ball is meant. The one in the middle tries to catch it. If the ballcatcher gets it, he'll throw it up into the air and catches for three times. During that time, the ones standing in circle have to scatter. After the third upthrowal, the catcher calls out: "Stop!/ Stay!" Then everybody has to stand where they were on the moment of calling and the catcher will throw the ball at one of the standers. If he hits him, then the caught one will become the catcher, and if he doesn't, he'll have to continue as the catcher. The players step into circle and the game starts again."

15) The same "units" are also used in a newer game of blindman's bluff "Is The Bear at Home?" (Kas karu kodus?)

16) Besides the named ones, children also play several games preparing for sport games, for example: "Ten", "Swish" (Sops), "Australia", etc.

17) Play-ground of that shape is known in the games of several nations, for example in a Philippinese game "Coast Defence" (Rannakaitse) (Lukatshi 1977, 104).

18) Touching the ball with hands once - 2 points; twice - 5 points; letting the ball through: the ball goes from between the legs - 4 points; the ball rolls pass between the enemy's legs with avibra - double vibra-points.

19) For example: A kick - 1 point, a footing kick - 2 points, a knee kick - 3 points, a kick with both legs - 10 points, a chest blow - 3 points; a stomach blow - 0 points; a head blow - 5 points; a vibra - 10 points.

20) Girls in Narva adapted this to alii, aloo (Video No. 43. III. 1 < Narva llth Secondary School - E. Kalmre, A. Tuisk, E. Sinijärv (1993).


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