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!

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