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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Oina - Romanian baseball

Oina is a sports game dating back from the era of Dacians and Romans. Initially a verb, "oina" means to take a herd of sheep down from the mountains to the field in Fall, also known as "transhumance".
There's a theory that this is in fact a war game, as shown by the names of various elements of this sport: “Baci” (the sheppard) is the captain of the team, “bata” is the bat, the player's arrival on the pitch is known as "intrare la strunga" (entering the sheep den), "jucator la strunga" (player caught in the middle - player caught in the sheep's den), "pascari" (players who catch the ball, players who guard the sheep).
Oina is practiced throughout Romania and even outside the borders of our country, even if the word for “ball” is different in many regions: "mince" and "mice" in Tecuci, "pila" and "lapta" in Transylvania, "pulma" in Banat, "suca" in Ohrida and "topa" or "topca" in Bitolia (a Turkish word).
There's lots of uncertainty regarding the real history of oina, as fake historians have claimed it to be a Turkish or Bulgarian sport, trying to find linguistic proof, but they failed, as for their theories, they seemed valid for a while, as we had no written proof about the Romanian origins of oina. The sport started being practiced in towns from the 18th century. Some historians mention Vlaicu Voda's reign (1370) as the period when the game was first talked about, but their only source is a historic drama, "Vlaicu Voda", written in 1888 by Alexandru Davila. This is a proof of the superficiality of some historians when talking about elements of a certain culture. The first written evidence regarding the game was found by Nicolae Iorga and mentioned in the book "Observatii si probleme banatene". It dates from 1763 and is provided by the priest Nicolae Stoica from Hateg, who claimed that he played oina with children in the church's courtyard. The game was so popular that even great figures of the 1848 revolution, like Avram Iancu relaxed by playing it, but back then the sport was known as "lopta-pila".

A fun event involved one of the most famous Romanian writers, Ion Creanga who was late at the inauguration of the school in Targu Neamt, done by Grigore Ghica, as the boy played oina on the local field. This game was known under very many names, depending on the Romanian region where it was played. For example, in Blaj oina was played under the name of "lapta-lunga" or "de-a lunga", while in Moldavia it was known as "hoina" or even "oina", as it was in Muntenia. In Suceava and Botosani, oina was played as "apuca" or "ogoiul", while there's also mention of "fuga" in Brasov, "halca" and "hopciu" in Dej, "ojerul" or "oirul" in Maramures and "ciocota" in Baia Mare, as names for the sport. You may be wondering what oina is really about... Well, as folclorist A. Lambrior described it in 1875 "it's a game played between many boys. First, you'll pick two of them, who are better players and will be called "baci". Then the other boys choose one of the two teams, as they please led by the “baci”. Two signs are placed on the field, about 10 metres away and one of the teams gets to start the game as the "batting team" (they hit the ball with bats) and the other is the "receiving team". Each team mate must hit the ball thrown by the other team’s leader only once and then run to the previously mentioned sign. Afterwards the players run again, once the ball hast been hit one more time. In order for a team not to lose points, they'll have to run the other's team sign and run back to their own, without any team member getting hit by the opponent's ball. The team has to wait for the team leader's three throws. After the first one they run towards the sign, at the second they come back and at the third (the strongest) the leader runs and returns. This goes on an on till the defending team either catch the ball or hit one of the runners with the ball". So you can imagine this game like it’s some sort of combination between baseball and dodgeball, a sport that involves speed, accuracy, team work and the basic will to have fun.

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