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Skill is a quality to be found in all games in one way or another. Aptitude and ability is needed to play them and even guile and astuteness are components needed for many of them. This chapter considers those games where hand skills are the most common characteristics.

Some of them, such as knucklebones, are exclusively or typically played by girls and were their iconic game for many decades of the 20th century. We have included with it games with stones, bostarrika, as they are closely related and similar to knucklebones, to the extent that some authors have said that it could be a forerunner of the latter.

Games with stickers were played by both boys and girls even though in different ways and forms. Even though games with pins and tooth picks are barely played today, there were very popular at the start of the 20th century.

The spinning top and the hinque stick were nearly exclusively the realm of boys and the spinning top was certainly very popular. The chapter ends with several games of skills with different toys and special mention should be made given their importance, at least until recent times, hoops with boys and the juggling diabolo with girls.

Knucklebones. Sakak. Tortoloxak

As was discovered in the different locations surveyed, playing “knucklebones” was a childhood entertainment mainly for girls. The older people surveyed recalled that it was played at the start of the 20th century. It seems that the rules and ways of playing were more complex in the past and were simplified later on.

This game is very widespread in time and space and common to many cultures. Telesforo de Aranzadi says: “Knucklebones have played an important role in European ethnography since pre-historic times. Its history certainly dates back to the era when Europeans were hunter-gatherers and in the Santimamiñe cave (Basondo-Kortezubi), knucklebones have been found of all sizes from 17 to 87 millimetres, in other words, from 2/3 to over 3 times the size of the most common ones used today. It is hard to imagine how the game could be the same using the large ones as with the small ones; but they could be used for spells and proof of their magical-religious importance is the bronze knucklebone with two handles, a votive offering to Aoikki at Dustna, near to a cubit in length, carried to Susa by Darius after the fall of Miletus and the looting of the temple at the end of the 6th century BC."[1].

Knucklebones have been played in many different ways. That diversity can be seen in the elements of the game, its rules and the ditties to sing when playing.

Games with stickers. Kromoka

Aspects of the game

Stickers printed only one side were used, with a variety of colours and themes, bought from marchanteras, travelling salesmen, or in stores. Parents or grandparents sometimes gave them as a present to their daughters and granddaughters in festivities or fairs. They were sold flat or folded in different sizes, with single theme drawings or with different figures: flowers, animals, dolls, cottages, angels, floral baskets, characters from children’s stories, etc. Some stickers, considered to be for girls, had lace trim and were shiny or glittery. The ones for boys had car, planes, horses, motorbikes, footballers, cyclists, etc.

The spinning top. Tronpaka

The well-known spinning top was a traditional pastime for the children in the Basque Country for many decades of the 20th century and still continues to be so today.

The toy is the spinning top, which is a piece of machined wood with a curved body that narrows to the end where the tip is located. The spinning top is divided into three parts, which are: the crown, which is the bulge in the upper part of the top; the body, which is the heavy core; and the tip, made out of iron and embedded in the wood. The iron tip is called rejón in Murguía amd Vitoria (A), pico in Mendiola (A) and untzia in Zeanuri (B).

The tops were usually made out of beech, holm oak, acacia, ash, oak and boxwood. Each child had their own, either given as a Christmas present or because it had been handmade at home. Thus, the top was made at home in Apodaca (A) or with the help of the carpenter and was usually a gift given to the child at the Christmas. The grandmother usually gave the string. In Portugalete (B), the tops were made by a wood-turner who had his workshop on the old dock.

A piece of string measuring approximately a metre and a half is wrapped round the top to make it spin. The string is held in place with the thumb and then passed through the iron spike and forms spirals next to each halfway up the top. Sometimes, a piece of metal of with a hole or a coin with a hole was placed on the crown and the string was passed through the hole and a knot tied so that it would not come loose and the string held strongly in place.

To make it spin, the tip is thrown using the hand whose fingers hold the surplus string. The top begins to spin in the air and continues to do so on the ground and shows off the skills of the thrower.

The hinque stick. Kinkika

It is a game played mainly by older boys and basically consists of throwing a sharp instrument into soft mud. The tool can be a sharp stick, a penknife, a knife, a nail and even a screwdriver and is generally known as hinque. Yet in some places it has a different name in Spanish or has a Basque name.

Before beginning to pay, and to establish the order of play, a line is drawn on the ground and everyone throws the hinque. The person starts whose hinque was closest to the line.

The hinque, in the same way with the spinning top, can be played in very different ways, that range from the simplest that involve throwing it into a circle previously drawn on the ground, trying to get it as close as possible to the circle or throwing it as far as possible, "Makillakin" in Zerain (G), to other more complicated versions.

  1. Telesforo de ARANZADI. “Knucklebones and teetotums in the Basque Country” in RIEV, XIV (1923) pp. 676-679.