As I read the proposed itinerary for the US Journalists Experiential trip to Barbados sponsored by the Barbados Tourism Authority, I got quite excited to see that we would “Learn to play Dominoes the Bajan Way” hosted by the Barbados National Domino, Whist and Hearts Club. The first thought that went through my mind was “Do they play bones the same in the Barbados as we do here in the States? Oh, boy, I can’t wait to find out.” I was also curious if the Whist in the Club name referred to a card game similar to Bid Whist I have played before. (I’ll answer that second question now. I didn’t get a chance to see or play a hand of cards. I explained to a nice Bajan gentleman our game of Bid Whist in the States and he told me yes, that is the game they call Whist in Barbados. The number of ways African-American and Barbados culture are alike are amazing. But I digress.)
As we unloaded the taxi before a small concrete building, I heard the unmistakable sound that told me, “Oh, but yes,” SLAM! SLAM! SLAM! and the boisterous laughter and chatter of old men playing dominoes. We were greeted by Ms. Suzette Hinds, secretary of the club that hosts rounds of play on weekdays and tournaments on Sundays. I felt instantly at home, well at least that scene of down-home like being at a family reunion in the park or out in the country or on the porch or patio at Big Momma’s house.
Similar to how we play in the States, Bajan Dominoes plays with a box of double six pieces, each player takes 7 pieces each, double six preferential starts the game, a round of play ends when the first player’s hand is empty or the board is locked, and players ‘wash’ the bones to shuffle them around before selecting pieces. Games can be played with three or four players and folks trash-talk, count pieces, and knock on the table to pass. And of course people SLAM bones on the table. But the pace of play and score taking is much different.
In the United States, points are claimed by players at each turn whenever the ends add up to a multiple of five. In a 3-man game, you don’t go fishing for a piece if you can’t play. Those extra pieces are simply out of play. Wins are a tallied according to who finishes the game first (domino!) or has the least points left in hand at the end of the game. I actually did quite well playing Bajan Dominoes because I employed the same strategy I use in American Dominoes – play the highest value pieces first. Points are tallied according to how many games you win (not the points you claim at each turn). As a result, rounds are very fast, on average 3-5 minutes. You mark your win on the table with a piece of chalk. The first person to win 6 total games wins that match. Several matches can be played.
Four-man dominoes is a team effort. The play is the same, except the winner of the previous round plays the first piece. Double six is still the preferred leading piece but if s/he doesn’t have it then s/he will play what s/he can. The first team to win 6 rounds wins the match.
It was quite a lot of fun. Our teachers were great sports and were quite patient with us.
Of course, they were counting pieces and making plays before we could knock. I swear I was at a family reunion picnic. They were talking all kinds junk – with their thick Bajan dialects: “You no have no fives” Slam! Slam! “C’mon.” “Girl knocking.” “Ere go!” Slam! My only response was to reply “Get out outta my hand!” and laugh in full agreement.
I had a blast and I actually like playing dominoes the Bajan way! I can’t wait to show off what I have learned at the next Outdoor Afro summer gathering with family and friends