Castilian skittles

Castilian skittles
1980. Castilian skittles. Comarca del Ocejón (Guadalajara), maker unknown. Photo by José Antonio Alonso Ramos © Archivo Escuela Provincial de Folklore

Castilian skittles

The earliest records of the game of skittles in the province of Guadalajara date from the years of repopulation in the 10th century. Introduced by shepherds from the north, the game is played in all the towns and villages of the Sierra Norte de Guadalajara, particularly on summer evenings, the local fiestas or any other suitable occasion.

The following explanation is taken from the text Juego de los Bolos by Octavio Minguez. The game consists in throwing a solid wooden ball, about 12-14cm radius and weighing 3kg, at some conical sticks or «skittles», about 50cm long with a base of 4cm in diameter. The most frequently used kinds of wood are walnut, ash or elm for the balls and poplar or holly for the skittles.

The court, known as «juego de bolos», is of earth, rectangular with a flat, clear surface, usually located in the centre of town. Sizes vary greatly from one place to another but range between 10 x 5 metres and 20 x 8 metres. The play area is marked of with straight logs. The playing area is divided into 3 sections: the middle, where the skittles are set up, and two ends which stretch from the logs at the end to some lines marked on the ground called «cinques».

The skittles are set up in three rows of three, with about 3 meters between each skittle and two meters between each row. In some smaller courts they play with only two rows of skittles.

Before the game starts, the teams (usually 4-5 players) draw lots to see who gets the manda or right to set the rules of play, that is, from where and how the ball should be thrown. Once the manda is decided, the other team starts throwing, followed by the team with the manda. When all the players have thrown, a second throw starts in the other direction, from the exact spot where the ball stopped and in the same order of play as for the first throw. The second throw is called

Although it is hard to make a single rulebook for the many variations which exist, there are four rules in common for all villages and towns. First, a player must not move his foot from the exact spot of the manda or birle until the ball stops moving or crosses the cinque; second, a player must not rest his free hand on anything; third, the ball must cross the line of the cinque; and fourth, the ball cannot change lane when throwing from the manda.

Any infringement of these 4 rules is called a micha, and leads to the guilty player being eliminated, and any skittles they have knocked down in that manda being discounted from the score. Other general—though not universal—rules are that skittles knocked down by another ball during the first throw don´t count, or that if a ball rebounds off the logs at the back into the playing area, the birle is from anywhere between the logs and the cinque.