Dembee | Mongolia

Name in Original Language

Дэмбээ

Area Where Played

Mongolia

History

Dembee is a widespread melody-based game in Mongolia, played by using hands and the fingers. Dembee is played between two players, based on a series of chants. The rule of the game is to guess and chant the total number of fingers shown by one and one’s opponent. Other versions of Dembee are differentiated by their special melodies or even using folk song melodies. The key factors to win in Dembee are: the ability to simultaneously show (different number of) fingers of two hands (each player uses two hands, one hand is used to show fingers and the other hand is used to keep track of the score), acute eyesight, clear speech, and listening ability. Therefore, it is characterized as a challenging game.

Detailed Description

Dembee is a traditional, mind-cultivating game that starts usually with chanting and asking ‘Do you know Dembee?’ You will guess the total numbers of fingers (up to ten) that are held up by you and your opponent (up to five each). For example: if I held up four fingers and my opponent also held up four fingers, while I was expecting him to hold up three fingers, adding up to a total of seven fingers, I would chant “Seven domboo missed.”  But, I would score if I had guessed correctly the total number of fingers. Generally, every number has own name. For instance, we would sing ‘Dembee vandan daa /byword and empty word/, ive vandan missed, Seven domboo /byword/, Friend’s eight, Fourish vandan’. I would use my other hand to keep score. For the first score, I would fold my left thumb, then my forefinger for the second score and so on. After my fourth score, I would say ‘Sprinkling!’ and the player who reaches five points first, wins the game1. Dembee is a traditional, mind-cultivating game that starts usually with chanting and asking ‘Do you know Dembee?’ You will guess the total numbers of fingers (up to ten) that are held up by you and your opponent (up to five each). For example: if I held up four fingers and my opponent also held up four fingers, while I was expecting him to hold up three fingers, adding up to a total of seven fingers, I would chant “Seven domboo missed.”  But, I would score if I had guessed correctly the total number of fingers. Generally, every number has own name. For instance, we would sing ‘Dembee vandan daa /byword and empty word/, ive vandan missed, Seven domboo /byword/, Friend’s eight, Fourish vandan’. I would use my other hand to keep score. For the first score, I would fold my left thumb, then my forefinger for the second score and so on. After my fourth score, I would say ‘Sprinkling!’ and the player who reaches five points first, wins the game1. Dembee is a unique game that is played among all people – men and women, children, youth and elders alike. Losers in the Dembee game have to drink a certain amount of Airag /Koumiss or fermented mare’s milk, because Dembee is traditionally played with “drinks” involved. Therefore, Dembee is played mostly in the Summer and Autumn, when Airag and other dairy products are produced bounteously. Koumiss consuming tradition among Mongolians originated from ancient time, and the drink has been widely consumed widely in Mongolia since the 13th century. Airag is a white-colored, sour and acidulous drink made of mare’s milk. Since the mare’s milk contains the highest concentration (7.8%) of lactose among other livestock animal’s milk, it is easily fermented and creates many acids, vitamins and biologically active substances that heals tuberculosis and radiation toxicosis.Even 4-5 years old children of nomadic herders’ family able to Dembee and it shows that Dembee is helpful in building skills of smartness and calculation. In countryside, especially in places with airag, there is almost no child who can not play Dembee.”2  In Dembee, the art researcher, J.Badraa, determined that chanting one number is called the single melody and chanting two numbers sequentially is called the double melody. When changting three numbers sequentially, the player stresses his voice and puts up his finger in a more emotional way when he believes he is winning. “Dembee mostly played in the Tuv/Central/, Dundgobi, Bulgan and Arkhangai provinces, proving that the game is played in regions where Airag is made and consumed. Dembee melodies in different places have its own local characteristics. Local people would say that Dembee is not played during festivals or celebrations, but in recent years, many contests and competitions are held in the local and central levels, in order to increase the popularity of the game. During Summer, for the celebration of Airag Producers Day, local Dembee championships are held in Bulgan and Dundgobi provinces, which are well-known nationwide for their horse-breeding and Airag production.
Number saying and finger showing versions Zero – closed, round shape similar to eggOne – Forefinger one  Chic one  Hand one Two – Union two  Couple twoThree –Garkhag three Spancel three Stupa threeFour – Turf fourFive –Crazy five Six – Baglag sixSeven –Dongor seven Eight –Tricky eightNine – Hook nineTen –Palm ten, Open ten (these numbers will be said cantillating and coupling with following words, Verbal games 2015, pp 224)

Rules

Dembee players first decide the size of Khul1 to drink Airag and the size is classified as big, mid and small and fill up selected size Khul with Airag and loser in the contest drinks it completely. When there are ten people in home, Dembee participant will Dembee with everybody and if wins he makes to counterparty to drink and/or drinks him/herself if he/she looses. Dembee starts with chanting and asking ‘Do you know Dembee?’ or just chanting ‘Dembee vandan daa’. You will guess the total numbers of fingers (up to ten) that are held up by you and your opponent (up to five each). I would score if I had guessed correctly the total number of fingers. You cannot fold the thumb of your hand (usually right) which keeping track of your score or show your extended fingers (usually left) to your opponent when you start playing, or else you will lose straight away. After my fourth score, I would say ‘Sprinkling!’ and the player who reaches five points first, wins the game.