Did you know that there’s no word for “no” in Burmese? It will therefore come as no surprise that their national sport is entirely non-competitive. Chinlone (“Cane Ball”) is a combination of keepie-uppie and dressage and has been played on every street corner for over 1500 years.
Circular teams of six pass a rattan ball between them, barefoot, using any part of their body except their hands or arms to keep it aloft. The emphasis is on technique and performative verve. Nobody wins or loses: teams are ranked on their technique, quick reactions and athleticism.
Professionally, teams wear matching kits of t-shirts and shorts, but recreationally you just hitch up your longyi into a sort of nappy (although Monks keep their robes on to play, and women don’t tend to go in for the longyi-nappy).
The annual Chinlone festival in June attracts 1000 teams from all over the country, with performances taking place from 9am till midnight for almost two months. Witty commentary and traditional live music accompany the play, influencing the style and speed of their movements. Towards the end of a performance, the music gains in speed and ferocity. The commentary accelerates and peaks, then with a final wallop of the drums the game is over. The players bow to the audience and leave the ring to applause and cheers.