A look behind Abwab: Saudi Arabian Pavilion

Saudia Arabia’s curatorial duo, Basma and Noura Bouzo¸ co-owners and co-founders of Oasis Magazine and Saudi Design Week, and their design team focus on the game known as Umm Tis”a (أم تسعة / pronounced in the Saudi dialect as أم تسع Um Tis) for their country’s pavilion. Here they share the history of this game and their concept for Abwab.

“Umm Tis” is embedded in the local culture and was first played using local elements of sand and stone. The elements used to play this game have developed into wood, plastic, and digital form.

We have chosen to spell the game’s name as UM TS3 to evoke gaming and the digital world. 

UM TS3 (Arabic: أم تسع / actual spelling: Umm Tis” / liter- al translation: Game of Nine or Mother of Nine / better known in the West as: Nine Men’s Morris) is a traditional game that has been played for centuries in Saudi Arabia. It is also known as miqtar, mukhattata, and miltakh. Today, UM TS3 is still played throughout the country. Although it has lost its popularity with the younger generations, UM TS3 tournaments are still held, specifically in Al Midhnab province and Unaizah province both of which are located in the region of Qassim in Saudi Arabia.

Nine Men’s Morris is a game in which counters are placed on a grid with the aim of creating lines of three. Each of the two players has 9 pieces. Once all the pieces are down, they can be moved one space per move. Whenever a player forms a row of three (a mill), he can remove one of his opponent’s pieces from the board. The first player down to two pieces loses. A precursor to Tick-Tack-Toe, the simplicity of the game board meant that people across the world could easily and simply create their own.

Listed as one of the ten most important games in history, Nine Men’s Morris was played as far back as 1400 B.C. The oldest board game was found cut into the roofing slabs of the temple at Kurna in Egypt. Boards have been found carved into steps and rocks in Sri Lanka, Bronze Age Ireland, and ancient Troy. It is known that the Roman Empire was a great fan of the game as many boards were found in Roman buildings. It is possible that the Romans were introduced to the game via trade routes via Egypt and it was re-introduced to Arabs through trade routes.

Pavilion concept

In its simplest form, in Saudi Arabia, UM TS3 was played by tracing three squares and lines into the sand. Each of the two opponents used either different coloured stones or different shapes or different textures to identify their 9 pieces. 

The emphasis of the pavilion will be texture, interaction, lighting, and sound. Today’s gaming limits real world interaction. The concept of the Saudi Pavilion is to re-connect the designers and the audience to their culture. The designers will be re-interpreting UMTS3 each with their own perspective on Saudi culture creating dialogue.  Visitors are encouraged to interact with the designs and designers. 

Image Credit: Alaa Alghufaili