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Cane Ball

By Preston Price

     My brief experience playing Chinlone (Cane Ball) in Burma was fascinating.  I attended the Traditional Sports Performance ceremony where I played this with the locals as well as some professionals.  Because I am a soccer player, I picked up the game up with ease, and had the time of my life.  Cane Ball is the national sport of Burma (AKA Myanmar) and most Burmese are extremely prideful of the game that is unique to this part of the world.  The traditional game is over 1,500 years old and was once played and performed for Myanmar royalty.  The ball is about the size of a grapefruit and is made out of woven cane plant.  It is hollow, therefore light, and not too hard on the feet.  The game can be played two different ways.  One way consists of six players standing in a circle.  They juggle the ball with their feet and head just like that of a soccer or hacky sack player.  One star player may at times stand in the middle of the circle and steal the show by displaying his skills with fancy tricks.  For instance, one trick would be to kick the ball up in the air and quickly spin 360 degrees to kick it back up in the air again before it hits the ground.  Another common way to play cane ball is to split up into two teams of three people each and play soccer style volleyball.  This includes using a volleyball court and volleyball rules, with one exception being that everyone hits the ball soccer style which means that using your hands is not allowed.  In addition to the team style of play, there is also a solo performance that is only performed by women.

    My speculation is that Cane Ball evolved out of some form of soccer.  According to Wikepedia, the origins of Chinlone may be related to the ancient Chinese game of cuju or tsu chu, which is acknowledged by FIFA as being the oldest form of soccer.  Maura Stephen's article titled, "The Heart of Burma," gives a small bit of information on Burma's background.  It explains that they were a former British colony until gaining their independence in 1948.  In actuality, the rules associated with modern day soccer originated in Britain.  Other than Cane Ball, soccer was the only other sport that I witnessed being played in Burma.  This would lead me to speculate that soccer was introduced to this region during the colonial era.  Since Cane Ball is so similar, it may have incorporated some rules associated with soccer while gaining its uniqueness during the period of time following independence, when Burma had isolated its own culture from the outside world.  I never saw an organized soccer game of any kind, but I did notice many occasions where kids were kicking around a raggedy ball in the streets.  Every time I encountered people watching television I realized they were watching foreign soccer matches.  So soccer does hold some value in Burma alongside Cane Ball.  In conlusion, my lack of witnessing any organized sporting event may also reflect the poor economy and lack of infrastructure that results in poor athletic programs.

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