Children’s Games in Tunisia – Happy Memories

Mahdi Abdel Jawad, Professor of Arabic Civilization and Literature, delves into childhood memories and games overcoming social borders.

Playing is an activity that is vital for every child’s development. While playing and having fun, children use the dynamic energy of their bodies as well as their mental capacities. While children play, they start to engage with their environment and at the same time are often required to be creative, especially if resources are limited.

This is why children’s games in Tunisia, the same as everywhere else, vary according to different socio economic, religious, and even climatic surroundings. Games played in the cities differ from those played in the countryside, by the sea or in the desert. Moreover, games are usually inventions of children themselves. Children build toys with simple tools and materials, depending on what is available to them, or make up their own role plays, which function according to rules they have agreed upon.

Similarly, customs, traditions and social values influence the games children play. For example, strict social norms regarding what a boy or a girl should do and how children should behave according to their gender influence children’s playing behaviors and games. Hence, in certain circumstances, and sometimes depending on social background, play can also be determined by geographical area, boys and girls play together in one place and in another, they play separately from each other. Many times boys and girls, who used to play with each other in their childhood, stop doing so when they get older and gender stereotypes start to leave their marks on them.

Girls tend to leave their homes less frequently as they get older, which consequently puts them under tighter social control. At the same time, boys stay outside and tend to play games that require more physical ability as they grow stronger. In this way, games played by boys and by girls start to differ.

Aside from games that can be found all over the world, such as “hide and seek,” marbles and cards, there are games particular to Tunisia, a few of which are outlined below.


The Five Stone Game

This game, which is played with five usually smooth and small stones, tests the agility skills of children and can be played in a variety of ways. Most commonly, a player picks up the stones with one hand and throws them into the air (typically no higher than half of a meter to a meter). The player then must catch one of the stones with the back of his or her hand. With a swinging movement of the arm the player throws that stone in the air again and then very quickly has to pick up one of the stones that lie on the table before catching the other stone again. This goes on until the player holds all the stones in his or her hand.

The Seven Stones

This game is played in two teams and revolves around a small tower of seven stones. The first team (“red”), has to hit the tower with a small rubber ball from a distance. As soon as the tower crumbles, the game starts. The red team diffuses and the second team (“blue”) starts to throw the same ball at the members of the red team. If someone is hit by the ball, that player is out of this round of the game. At the same time, and in the midst of ball attacks by the blue team, the red team has to rebuild the tower. If the players of the red team succeed in rebuilding the tower, they win. However, if all players of the red team are hit before they rebuilt the tower, the blue team wins. This game can also be found in other countries of the region.

Al Nafkha The Blow

In this game, cards with pictures of animals, soccer players, historical figures or cartoon characters, which usually come with food products, are placed face down on the ground in front of a wall. Bent on the ground, children start blowing air under the cards and towards the wall, attempting to overturn them. If someone succeeds in flipping a card with his or her breath, that person is the winner and gets the card. 

Al Imthal – The Statue

This game is mostly played by girls. They dance and spin around until one of them counts, “one, two, three!” All the players must then immediately stop dancing and stand still. The one who stopped moving last is out of the game. The girls repeat this until only one of them remains (the winner).

The Judge and the Thief:

Children often play this game at school. It starts with ripping four pieces of paper of equal size from their school notebooks, on which they write judge, thief, inspector and executer. Afterwards, the pieces of paper are folded and shuffled. Each child picks one and has to play the character written on the piece of paper. The inspector has to find out who the thief is by asking questions of the others and by creating a discussion among the players over what has happened. The inspector must eventually guess who the thief is, a guess sometimes inspired by the disclosing body language of the thief. If the inspector is correct, he or she wins. The judge then convicts the accused thief and decides his or her punishment. This is often the most fun part of the game. The thief has to comply with the judge and fulfill the sentence, which is usually a challenge to do something ridiculous or funny, like telling a joke or singing a song. The executor ensures the thief complies. However, if the inspector was wrong, the thief is pardoned and the inspector is punished in the same way. This game often evolves into Shakespearean drama and requires no resource apart from imagination.

Al Gercha – (“Bite” in the Southern Tunisian dialect)

This is a game that is played in the oases of the Sahara, in Tunisia’s south, where the famous “Nour Dates” (Diglet Nour) come from. The game is very simple, and children use only the materials they get from the Nour palm tree. During date season, children collect the dates that fall from the trees and mark one of them by biting in it. Afterwards, they shuffle the dates and burry them under the soft sand. Next, they take the long and sharp spires of the palm leaves and ram them into the sand. The child who catches the date with the bite mark wins. 

Banni Banni

Banni Banni is the name of a homemade firework that is commonly constructed for national or religious holidays. Children use old iron keys, which are hollow and open at the top. They then use a long nail, a thread and matches to build the small firework. The sulfur of the matchsticks is scraped from the wooden sticks and stuffed inside the old key. Afterwards the nail is jammed inside the key so that the hole is sealed with the nail´s head. The thread is fixed at both ends of the key to create a long handle to keepthe explosion at a distance from the person that will trigger the Banni Banni. It bursts when the nail’s head is slammed against a wall.