Sōk Sōk – Iranian Children’s Game

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Persian-American
Age: 79
Occupation: Retired
Residence: San Ramon, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 18, 2021
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Farsi

Description of Informant

PK (79) is a small, frail woman with dyed blonde hair and piercing eyes. PK was born and raised in Abadan, Iran in an “Oil Company Family.” OCFs were families whose primary income came from the large British oil company in Iran. They were well compensated and taken care of, living in western-style homes in protected communities. Many OCFs were secular or subscribed to a western religion in favor of Islam. PK immigrated to England in 1976 before coming to America (California) in 1978.

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Context of Interview

The informant, PK, is cooking a traditional Persian stew (khoresh) while describing the custom to the collector, BK, her grandson. Text spoken in Farsi is translated and italicized.

Interview

PK: The neighbors, they were always together [as children]. In the street, they’d group up— they’d become two groups. Now we were tiny, when we were younger— I mean the older kids didn’t bother us but nobody was following us around. You know? We were smaller.

PK: The older kids, like my sister, brother, the older siblings, would group up and play Sōk Sōk. You know Sōk Sōk, right? You go “Sōk Sōk!” One group would stand with their eyes closed and the other group would go, in the streets, and hide somewhere. It was dark too… there were some lights. They’d hide, one person here, one person there, and then… the first group, for instance, would count to 100 and then go after them. And it wasn’t a small place, you really had to look!

PK: Then, for instance, if I saw you I’d yell “Sōk Sōk!”

BK: Ah, so it’s like American hide-and-seek, but with teams?

PK: Yes. Two groups. And it was so fun! At night, with warm weather, everyone running, laughing, running, “Not here!”, “Over there!”, “Hurry quick!”. We go behind the houses… There was no time limit. You went until you found everyone, and then it was the next group’s turn.

BK: If you find someone, do they “join” your team?

PK: Um… no. No, the person you find, they don’t start going after their own team. You have to stay. For instance, if I found you on Belladonna [a street nearby], you would go back to the starting point and wait for everyone to be found.

Collector’s Reflection

Sōk Sōk’s name is a repetition of the Faris word for “bother” or “bug,” in the way that two children may bug each other. It’s relatively harmless, but annoying. The title is recited during gameplay when you find an opponent, almost in a “Gotcha!” style. Thus, it’s almost like saying, “I’m bugging you!” If you’ve been caught, you’re certainly bothered.

The game is reminiscent of many group-based derivations of Hide-and-Seek, such as Sardines or the more complex Relievio [see here for my article on Relievio in Merrimac, Massachusetts]. It is in a unique category of these derivations which focus on speed. Traditional Hide-and-Seek is a relatively slow-paced game, with one seeker and any number of hiders. Sōk Sōk is all about running, yelling, and the speed at which you find the opposing team. Despite the fact that there is no clear advantage or “prize” to finding your opponents faster, there is informal clout that comes as a result of a speedy victory.