A report by Bharat Sundaresan for the Indian Express.
“SOME HUSBANDS leave their home for a game of dominoes and by the time they come back their wives are gone. Because it’s been a week since they left.” If you think that’s an exaggeration, think again. Time does fly when you are sitting around a dominoes table with a bunch of highly competitive men from the Caribbean. And its effect on marriages are well-publicized. Not that it stops anyone from the indulgence.
At times, it does appear that some people in the Caribbean have more than 24 hours in their day. And most of that bonus time, along with the regular hours, is spent playing dominoes. It’s in Jamaica that you’ll find hordes of gents in groups of four almost on every street corner or, at times, on the side of a busy alley, animated and boisterous while slamming a domino on the makeshift table. But the game that came to the Caribbean, via sugar and slave trade from Europe, is a staple in every island.
“Playing dominoes in the Caribbean is almost an initiation into manhood. And the older you get, the harder you slam the domino on the table,” explains Daryll, who works at a restaurant in Fort James but dabbles in his favourite pastime with his colleagues when business is slow. You are afforded the beginners’ luck and shown some kindness initially. But the niceties are over by the second game itself, and it’s all serious business now, with a little sledging thrown in.
But not all Antiguans call dominoes their game. They prefer their national game, warri (house), another board game that was brought to the isles by slaves from Africa, Sudan in particular. It’s believed to have been the most common form of entertainment following a long day at work for them. What helped was the contempt that the European masters held for the game that they felt occupied too much of their workers’ time. Unlike dominoes, warri is a slower game based on strategy and deception. It uses a wooden tablet like board with various holes and with both players starting with a fixed number of warri seeds or nickernuts. You’ll find competitors deep in battle at almost every bus stand in Antigua while those waiting for the buses stand around cheering or jeering them. The boards are left there overnight with the belief that nobody would commit as blasphemous an act as steal it. And some boards have been around for decades at St John’s east and west bus stands.
“You will never find a Warri board not being used. Someone or the other is always using it for a game,” says Daryll.