In Morocco I found many rural games played by children of the Berber people. A common theme of the Berber games is a desire to find the bravest of the group and to propagate a keen skill for adaptation.
One such game is Dinifri, also known as Critna, a game of outdoor team play, bravery and physical dexterity amidst a continuous flow of a strangely ordered chaos. Dinifri is a living example of the Berber people's great ability to adapt and react to ever changing conditions as a fluid group of highly skilled individuals.
I learned how to play this game by playing it with the highly energetic children of the Centre Anjal in Tetouan.
Games like Dinifri go back to a time when the Berber people were a nomadic feudal warrior group. The Berbers were renown for their bravery in the face of great adversity and have fought in many terrible situations across some of the most inhospitable terrains of North Africa and even Spain.
An important part of growing up in a warrior tribe is the development of strengths and skills to be employed during battle. It is for this reason that many Berber games for children included one or more elements to nurture these abilities.
Individual skills of throwing, running and evasive maneuvers are all very common in Berber games and tests of bravery were integral to finding a tribes future leaders. Dinifri is a game that tests many of these abilities in just one game. Players must learn to throw and hit small stationary targets, moving targets, dodge missiles, and run bravely into the heart of the opposition to move important objects. All of these skills are tested at the same time in a kind of manic chaos, much like a battle scene, and during this mayhem each warrior must find a way to work with their group as a cohesive team forming strategies on the move. This activity develops individual skills as a warrior but also leadership skills in communication when adaptation to a wildly changing game plan is imperative.
A 1 meter square court is scratched into the ground. In each corner of the square a smaller square is drawn and one drawn in the middle. 5 pieces of stone or other object are placed on top of each other in a pillar in the central square.
A soft but rigid material such as cardboard is rolled into a tight baton shape and tied with a piece of strong grass or string.
2 teams of 5 stand at opposing ends of the square diagram. The teams take turns to throw the baton at the 5 pieces of stone in the center of the square. When a team hits the pieces and knocks them all down the game suddenly jumps to a manically paced attack and defense scenario. The team who hit the pieces becomes the attacking force whilst the other team becomes the defensive force.
At this moment the attacking team's objective is to reach the square court and place all 5 pieces of stone into each of the smaller squares without being hit by the baton. The defensive team's objective is to stop the attacking team from placing the pieces by hitting the attacking team members with the baton thus eliminating each member from the game.
Each time an attacking player is hit by the baton the game pauses for a moment as the defending team all jump up a sing "Chi chi Ka Kahh" many times in celebration of their achievement, before the game continues.
The game is won either by the attacking team placing all the 5 stone pieces or by the defensive team hitting all the attackers with the baton.
The attacking force may form many strategies for running in to move the pieces and/or draw out the defensive team's baton holder while an attacking member sneaks in without being noticed. The playfield area expands to a great distance of up to 50 meters or so as players run away from their pursuers.
The defending team forms strategies to beguile the attacking force into a variety of traps. One particularly crafty strategy is to disguise which of their team is actually holding the baton. The team huddles together and hides the baton with one of their members. They all pretend to hold the baton under a shirt or behind their back and run out to chase the attacking force who are none the wiser to who really hold the baton. The defending team then attempts to drive the attackers towards the real baton holder who will them bring attempt to land a hit.
What I find incredible about this game is how on earth any of the players really know what is going on. It all happens at such great speed, changing from attack to defensive maneuvers in split seconds. These children are so hardwired to the possible outcomes of their actions that the game fluctuates like the erratic movements of a swarm of flies. However crazy the game appears to the spectator, there is some order in it all, just as battle and war must seem. In all the chaos the children are tightly focused on their goal and revel in the many windows of opportunity to strike out and overcome the opposition.
Although the Berbers no longer wage war, some of their culture lives on in the games they play. However, it was in Morocco that I first noticed how games of culture were being lost. In one village I visited the children only knew one game, football, and had never heard of Dinifri or any other Berber game. I asked the group of 20 strong if they would like to learn a new game. They jumped for joy at the prospect and screamed with laughter the first time they all shouted "Chi Chi Ka Kahh". The on looking parents and grand parents were astonished to see their children playing a game that they had played in their childhood. I was more astonished that they had never taught these games to their children. I often found children without knowledge of their parent's games, but loved them whenever they were presented and this was for me a wonderful gift to carry.
In modern Morocco the King treats Berber people like 3 rd class citizens even though they make up more than 70% of the population. Yet the Berber people have always braved the worst, adapted to great changes and survived to tell their tale. Dinifri is a living example of the Berber people's great ability to adapt and react to ever changing conditions as a fluid group of highly skilled individuals.