The traditional ancient outdoor game of ‘brilli’
Discover the extraordinary game of ‘brilli’ that is nowadays only played in the village of Gharb, Gozo by handful of men. This unique game of ancient skitters is played on Sundays and Public Holidays in Gozo!
How did I come across such a rare tradition? Last week I’ve decided to escape Malta’s hustle and bustle and spend a nice relaxing weekend in Gozo. All I wanted was some peace and quiet for couple of days. We’ve stayed in one of the traditional farm houses in the village of Gharb. I think it was my 5th stay in this area of Gozo. This time with a little special twist.
Just in front of the farmhouse we were staying in, I’ve noticed two white lines with ‘No Parking’ sign during Sundays and Public Holidays from 7 – 11am. I mean we’re all familiar with two yellow lines, but I’ve never seen two white ones. I’ve learned from our host that this area is reserved for the players of the traditional ‘brilli’ game. I’ve heard of ‘bocci’ before, but ‘brilli’ was a new term for me.
Therefore, when I started hearing voices, just outside my window, on Sunday morning I knew why! I eagerly woke up, dressed up and ran out (even without breakfast!) to see what’s this ‘brilli’ about.
I was met by a handful of elderly men and one youngster who were totally caught up in the game! I slowly started asking what it is, that they are playing and what’s the aim this game. And I found out couple of very interesting facts about this tradition.
Brilli is a very old game with roots stretching back before the arrival of the Knights of St. John. Brilli resembles bowling in a way because it’s played with skittles and a ball. However bowling is normally played indoors with usually 10 skittles and a heavy bowling ball. Brilli is an outdoor game played with 9 wooden skittles and relatively light wooden ball about the size of a grapefruit.
There are also number of rules that have to be followed by the players. First of all the skittles are arranged in a square-diamond shape. The aim of the game is to knock down the pins and score points. The object is to get exactly 24 points. If someone surpasses this number he is out of the game straight away until the next round. It’s also important to note that different pins have different names and values. The centre one is called is-sultan and it’s worth 9 points. The corner skittles are known as is-secondi and count for 6 points. The remaining once are called qarmuc and only count 1 point.
When it’s your turn you get two goes with the ball. The first one is from an agreed point and the second one from where the ball settled after the first throw. To make it a bit more interesting, the first throw scores differently than the subsequent throws. The first throw counts double. However if more than one type of pins is knocked down on the first throw (is-sultan, is-secondi and qarmuc), the player only gains 2 points for each pin.
The game of brilli is usually played by several men. When I asked if it’s only a ‘men’ game, I was told that no rules says that women cannot play, but it’s not common and usually they always miss (not true!).
There are other rules to follow if you want to go deeper and know more about the game. If I understood it correctly, if the ball ends up close enough to the skittles that you can reach them by hand you can do so. As you can see on the above images it does happen quite often. One player helps to keep the ball in place, while the other one is reaching for the skittle he needs.
This regular group of players usually meet every Sunday morning and play for couple of hours. To make it a bit more interesting, the game is played with money. The winner of the game gets €,020 from each of the loosing player. Also before the start of each game the guys gather together and ‘draw straws’ by spontaneously showing a number from one to five on their hands.
And here is last Sunday’s group of players (from left): Leli Micallef, Charlie Cauci, Mario Cauci, Wenzu Grima and Charlie Spiteri. Who is missing on the group photo is Valerio Bugeja, who was wearing the yellow-green top and is on the previous photos. Valerio was also kind enough to give me all his research materials about the game. The usual group also consists of Peppi Cassar, Kellinu Grima, Nenu Debrincat and Raymond Vella.
It is also worth mentioning that Valerio with the help of others is trying to get ‘brilli’ on the National Cultural Heritage List! Good luck!
Next time you’re in Gozo, you know what you need to do! Make the effort and go down to Pietro square in a village of Gharb on Sunday morning and give this game a try! Everyone is welcome and if you can help to preserve this unique tradition it would be absolutely awesome!