Thursday, August 27, 2015

Thunee in the 1940's?

Jawaharlal Nehru, Indias first Prime Minister, said that; “Life is like a game of cards. The hand you are dealt is determinism; the way you play it is free will”. I’m wondering - was he talking about Thunee?

His good friend Ghandi stayed in the heart of Thunee land during his years in South Africa from 1893 to 1914. There are no accounts of Ghandi playing the game. He was a people’s person though, and must have played the game in the middle of Thunee's rising popularity. I’m certain that Ghandi brought the game to India, where he and Nehru secretly played the game. In between their other talks, they were busy 4-balling each other.

Nehru also said; “The policy of being too cautious is the greatest risk of all”. Did you regret not calling a Thunee, or a kanak Nehru?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Thunee popularity

I’m proud to say I play Thunee. It’s a cultural heritage, and the fact that it’s a popular game makes me even more proud. But how popular is it really?

First and foremost it’s a relatively confined game played amongst Indians in South Africa only, well mostly. It seems like a gamers parallel to Apartheid and the group areas act. Ok, South Africa was a bubble during that period, but the game existed long before that and quite some time during the age of social medias. Are charous systematically blocking other groups from playing the game, unconsciously – but still?! On that note, I see this white guy (fair assumption) online complaining about complex rules, and advising to find a live indian to teach the game.

Anyway, amongst Indians in South Africa the total universe amounts to about 8 million people. How many plays the game, or are likely to play the game? Subtract children, moffies and some steckies behind the pots, then 25% maybe? That’s 2million players in a best-case scenario, but continued charou confinement. Hundreds! Converted to Rands in my pocket, I’d be very chuffed. Relative to the world population in 2015, that’s less than 0,03%. Much more likely, Kajol will run down my trellidoor and beg on her knees to marry me tomorrow!
Relative to other card games then, how popular is it? Robert Putnam reports that; “In the late 1950s, it was estimated that 35 million Americans – nearly one third of all adults – were bridge players”. In 2005, 25 million Americans over the age of 18 knew how to play bridge, according to the American Contract Bridge League. Only 3 million of these played the game at least once a week. Although reclining, players can study a hand of bridge presented in the newspapers, pretty much wherever you go in the world.

Take poker for instance. Its played all over the world and the number of players are increasing by the day. Poker players have pocketed their dough since the Wild West, and poker as a profession doesn’t raise an eyebrow anymore. People are employed to write about and broadcast the game. Anestimated 80 million people in the US played poker in 2005, and 2 millionsplayed online every month. The number of players in the world series of poker (WSOP) increased from 393 in 1999 to 8773 players in 2006 (Wikipedia). During the same timeframe, numerous Thunee players went into “brain drain exile” where they had nobody to play with.

Card games worldwide are facing a general decline in players. The exception is poker, but mainly driven by online playing. With hardly any online presence, Thunee may have a gloomy future ahead. Just a small indication before the recline hits us heavily… How often do you read about Thunee in the papers?

The future might be bright though. According to new UN estimates, India will pass China as the most populous country in only 7 years time. If Amitabh Bachan or Kajol got hooked… Thunee could trump poker!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The origins of Thunee

Being part of an Indian South African family and having lived in SA for two years, there was no option but to learn Thunee. Most social charou gatherings include half a bicycle pack - then the game is on. The catchy card game resembles another popular card game in Norway, and thus not too hard to get a general hang of.

After playing the game for quite a few years, I’ve been wondering about the history of the game. Are the similarities to the Norwegian card game just coincidental?

After serving my naval duty in Norway, I know for a fact that seafarers are avid card players. Not participating in the game, you’re considered dead meat on board. Norwegian seafarers did also reach the South African shores. The most known are the Norwegian whalers who came to Port Natal and the shores further south. Oslo beach to name one, where they even started a Norwegian church.

Just like seafarers, religion seemed to be another factor. Browsing through battle site maps throughout KZN, you’ll be amazed to find Norwegian missionary stations. I imagine they were playing Thunee in between the battles and prayers.

Another group set out from Bergen (Norway) to start a colony on the island Aldabra (Seychelles) in order to practice their religion. Reaching Madagascar, they found that the French had already claimed the island. Devastated, they navigated back to Port Natal where descendants today are farmers in Stanger.

All this happened pretty much at the same time as the indentured labourers arrived in SA... or were they all Thugs? Whether it was the whalers, missionaries or religious colonists, or a mix of all three? Durban was pretty much surrounded by preaching card playing Norwegians. Naming the game was pure logic. As the Indians in South Africa adopted the game, they were quick to name it Thunee (water in Tamil) since it came the waterway from Norway.

At sea, there was no 4-balling for cheating. Keelhauling and flogging were the usual punishments amongst hardy seamen, and kept the majority away from cheating. The equivalent in today’s landlubber Thunee, is marshal law where 4-ball is as bad as it gets. Cheating is less fatal, but has become an important part of the game. The speed, rhythm and verbal battles come hand in hand with cheating, and are major factors behind the growing popularity.

No wonder Thunee players are so religious about their game!