Tag Archives: Sardinia

Sardinian Pig Finger Game

“It is something that you do with children, with the fingers on one hand and uh, the thumb is the pig. And the other fingers are, ‘one killed the pig’, ‘the other one umm well after you kill the pig you have to pass it on the fire to burn the…the hair, its kind of a strong hair, and then finally the ring finger ate it. But then little pinky who told everyone, you know, spilled the beans, and then he didn’t get any. In Sardinia it goes like that, touching the finger. (The informant repeated this little rhyme in Sardinian). And this is in Sardinian which is the language of the island of Sardinia and the variety that I speak, not very well, but the one that I uhh learned through my maternal grandparents is the variety called Locudorese that is in the north. So I remember my grandmother, Antonina, um you know, playing with us and doing this thing. And it is very Sardinian because you know, that’s what people used to do when propane was scare, was to fatten the pig, typically around Christmas umm they killed it and of course they didn’t throw away anything because they made, you know, prosciutto, sausage, the ears, the feet, everything was used. And umm so this is the process. The fact that after you kill it, you know, the pig has this kind of this strong hair that you have to burn so you pass the pieces of meat on a fire. And it gives off a terrible smell, like when you accidentally burn your nails, because it is basically that same kind of substance. But you have to do it otherwise you can’t eat the meat.”

As the informant stated, he learned this game from his grandmother as a young child. The game relates to the traditional cooking in the region of Sardinia where he grew up. Folklore is born from culture, and eating is very important to a culture, so it makes sense that there are children games that deal with food and eating. The informant placed a lot of  importance on the process of burning the hair. Possibly this is because he remembers the distinct smell and the unique process, or because it is a foreign idea to me, as the collector, so he spent extra time on it. He also said later that the reason that the pinky-finger didn’t get any meat was because he spilled the beans about the feast, and when people hear about someone cooking pig in the village, that person has to share. This demonstrates the community ties of a small village such as the one where the informant grew up. They would share meals because such luxuries (like pig) were rare.  He says that this was a game he played when he was very young. It allowed him to bond with his grandmother, reaffirm his local cultural traditions, and partake in childhood games. Playing with the fingers instead of the toes allows the game to continue into later childhood, because it is less weird for someone to touch your fingers than your toes.

This little finger game reminds me of a similar game we play with babies and children. The version I remember goes, “This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home, this little piggy had roast beef, this little piggy had none, and this little piggy went wee wee wee all the way home”. And instead of touching the fingers, starting with the thumb, you touch the toes, starting with the big toe. This game reminds me of playing with children and making them giggle. The pinky seems to be a funny finger/toe, always getting into trouble or doing something silly. The game also helps children connect with their bodies, which they need to do in the early stages of life. I think it’s interesting that the Sardinian version talks about cooking pigs, while the version I know talks about buying beef at the market. It reflects the difference in culture, because here we rarely cook our food from scratch, while that is more common in rural Sardinia. It should also be noted that the informant said the Sardinian version, but I didn’t want to attempt to spell (or misspell) his words phoenetiallay. However, I included his  translations.

Tower of Fists Game

“Okay, this is a game that children play, and so everyone puts their um fists on top of each other making like a tower, and then the one who leads the games sort of knocks everything, as if it were a building. Actually, in this one it’s as if it were a series of boxes, one on top of the other. And so basically, it goes up and down, ‘knock, knock’, ‘who is this?’, “well go upstairs’. But the last one is the most important one, when he reaches the top, and he says, (in Sardinian) ‘What is this?’ (Also in Sardinian) ‘A little box’, and then he asks, (in Sardinian) ‘What’s in it?’ (in Sardinian) ‘A golden apple’ (in Sardinian) ‘To whom are you going to give it?’ (in Sardinian) ‘Oh, to my beloved one in Alghero (which is a city nearby). May she be shown around with happiness’. And then they say something which doesn’t have anything to do with uhh. Whoever laughs first will get a slap in the face, because at this point everybody, you know the tower is destroyed, and everybody starts going like this, starts switching their hands like this, like mmmm (The informant rolls his hands quickly around each other, flat and with palms facing him, in front of his mouth). Of course its hard not to laugh when you are a child and doing this stupid thing. So uh that’s the game”

The informant also gave another version of the story inside the game, one from elsewhere in Sardinia: “And this one I remember from my father and it’s kind of the same idea. This time it’s about somebody going to the shoe maker, and the idea is that he has left the shoes to be repaired, and so the customer goes back and knocks and you know, again you do the tower with the fists and knocks and knocks. Like, ‘I’m looking for maestro so-and-so, you know, the shoemaker’, ‘well he’s not here, go to the… go upstairs’ and upstairs, upstairs until, you know, he reaches the top fist and this time he asks, uhh, ‘tum-tum (that’s like knock-knock)… (in Sardinian) who is this?’ (in Sardinian) ‘Is master Antonie there?’ ‘Si!’ This time the answer is yes, he is here. In all the other cases, it was go upstairs, to the other floor. This time, yeah, ‘Is master Antonie there?’ ‘Yes, he is here!’ (in Sardinian) ‘Is he done, has he finally fixed my shoes?’ ‘No’ ‘Oh!’ Then the customer gets angry and he says, (in Sardinian) ‘Now I’m going to destroy all the building’. And then, you know, everybody again starts like doing this movement, switching the hands in front of their month. And of course again, whoever is the first to crack up in laughter gets a little slap from all the others, so it’s the same idea.”

The informant played this game when he was a young child. He still found it pretty fun though, because we played it after the interview, and he laughed a lot when I laughed first. However, I avoided the slap. The hand motion is pretty silly looking and it’s hard not to laugh. The informant played the game in his hometown in northern Sardinia, but there are other versions of the story in different regions of the island, as well as in Italy. The first story version is more romantic and fantastical, with a lover and a golden apple. However, the other version, from another region in Sardinia, is focused on the business of shoe-making. A lot of childhood games, especially in Sardinia, have connections to food or jobs. This could be because Sardinia is more rural than many cities here in America, so much of the people’s time is taken up with finding money and food, and they pass that on to their children.

I found the game silly and enjoyable. I have never seen any similar game here in America. It’s hard for me to picture a group of kids playing this. I think it’s interesting that the structure in both versions is the same, even though the stories are very different. This suggests that the story is not the important part of the game. Rather, the hand motions and the laugh-slap finale are the real appeal. The story lengthens the game and creates a process for it. This creates suspense and the children can imagine that they are actually following a narrative while they play, instead of just stacking their fists and knocking on each one. There are games here in America that I’ve played that involves a story simply to structure it. Some examples include Mafia, and Honey will you please please smile. These games are fun if the leader is good. I wish I could play the informant’s game for real, just to experience it.

Sardinian Catholic Prayer

“Okay, this is a prayer, a Catholic prayer, that I have learned from my aunt, she’s my mum’s sister. Well in Sardinia, people recite the usual prayers, you know, our Father, Holy Mary, and others. But there are specific ones that are in Sardinia, and they have similar concepts of course. Umm this one describes like a bed, and says, ‘My bed has four corners and four angels sit on there’ and then I don’t remember a part. But anyway then these angels say, ‘Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid of evil things…ummm….. Don’t be afraid of a bad hand.’ The angel Sara… I don’t know how we say it in English, its a kind of angel. Serafino. And the white angle will help you, amen. (Then the informant recited the prayer in Sardinian) Go in peace, I forgot, that’s the end. Um probably, probably I’m thinking this might be a prayer to recite before going to sleep, because it will kinda be like, you know, kinda like warding off the evil spirits and you know, seeking the protection of the angels and they are comforting and telling you, don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid because you are protected by us.”

Here is the poem in Sardinian:

Su lettu meu est de battor contones
e battor anghelos si bi ponen,
duos in pêse e duos in cabitta,
Nostra Segnora a costazu m’istada
e mi narat: «Dormi e reposa,
no eppas paura ‘e mala cosa,
no eppas paura ‘e malu fine».
S’anghelu Serafine,
s’anghelu biancu,
s’Ispiridu Santu,
sa Virgine Maria
totu siant in cumpagnia mia.

Here is the translation:

My bed has four corners
And four angels sit on it,
two by the feet and two by the head,
Our Lady is beside me,
and she tells me: “Sleep and rest,
don’t be afraid of bad things,
don’t be afraid of a bad outcome.”
The Seraphine angel,
the white angel,
the Holy Spirit,
the Virgin Mary,
may all be with me.

The informant said that he learned this prayer from his mother’s sister when he was a child. He doesn’t remember it completely because he has not recited the prayer in awhile. He said that he was raised Catholic, but that he converted to Buddhism about twenty years ago. However, he still has respect for Catholicism and this prayer. According to the informant, this prayer is unique to Sardinia, especially because there are very unique dialects that vary by region on the island of Sardinia. There are other similar prayers that are normally said before bedtime, but this version has aspects that differ from those versions.

I was not raised Catholic, so I can’t relate to saying prayers before bed, especially about angles. However, I think the prayer is very pretty, especially in Sardinian. There is something a little scary about going to bed, because it’s dark and uncontrollable. When you’re asleep, you could die, which is a fear some people have. Thus, it makes sense that people want to pray before bed. It also can help relax them, which can make falling asleep easier. The main message of the prayer is “don’t be afraid” because you are protected. It serves to  reinforce the power and love of God.