The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a country known for its modernity, towering skyscrapers, and bustling cities. However, beneath its contemporary facade lies a treasure trove of traditional games that offer a glimpse into the country’s vibrant cultural heritage. These age-old pastimes have been passed down through generations, reflecting the values, customs, and rich history of the Emirati people. 

In this article, we will explore some of the traditional games of the UAE, shedding light on their significance and the joy they bring to both locals and visitors alike.

What are Traditional Games?

Traditional games have been passed down through generations and are deeply rooted in a particular culture or community. These games often have historical and cultural significance and are considered a part of a region’s heritage. Traditional games are typically played using simple or no equipment, relying on physical skill, strategy, and sometimes luck.

These games are integral to a community’s cultural identity and serve various purposes. They may be played for entertainment, socialization, education, physical fitness, and the preservation of cultural values and traditions. Traditional games often reflect the values, beliefs, and way of life of the people who play them, and they connect individuals to their cultural roots.

They can take various forms, including physical games, board games, card games, team-based games, and verbal or storytelling games. They may involve physical coordination, strategy, memory, improvisation, and creativity. Many traditional games have rules that have been passed down over generations, and they often have a strong sense of community and shared identity associated with them.

5 Traditional Games of the UAE


Siniya is a traditional Emirati game that combines strategy, skill, and agility. Played on a sandy surface, it involves using a wooden stick to hit a small, round object called the “siniya” towards a designated target. The target is often a small pit or a marked area in the sand. Players take turns to strike the siniya, aiming to propel it towards the target while avoiding obstacles. 

The game requires precision and control, as players need to adjust their striking technique to account for the sandy terrain. Siniya not only promotes physical coordination but also fosters a sense of healthy competition and camaraderie among participants.




Al-Azi is a traditional Emirati form of storytelling that is often accompanied by music and poetry. It involves a lead narrator, known as the “nashid,” who recounts tales of heroism, love, and triumph. The audience actively participates by clapping, singing, and responding to the narrator’s cues. 

The game serves as a means of preserving the country’s oral traditions, passing down historical events and cultural knowledge from one generation to the next. The stories shared during Al-Azi performances often reflect Emirati values, such as bravery, honour, and loyalty. The melodic music and rhythmic poetry add to the captivating nature of this traditional art form.




Mheibis is a strategic board game that requires mental acuity and problem-solving skills. Played on a rectangular wooden board with engraved markings, it involves moving pieces across a grid, aiming to capture the opponent’s tokens. The game’s intricate rules and calculated moves make it a captivating challenge for players. Each player takes turns moving their pieces strategically, aiming to outmanoeuvre and capture their opponent’s tokens. 

Mheibis not only entertains but also stimulates critical thinking and strategic planning, as players must anticipate their opponent’s moves and make calculated decisions. This traditional game is a testament to the Emirati people’s intellectual prowess and love for strategic pursuits.




Ghahwa, also known as “coffee pouring,” is a traditional Emirati hospitality ritual that has evolved into a game. It involves pouring coffee from a traditional dallah (coffee pot) into small cups with precision and elegance. The player must maintain a steady hand and pour the coffee from a height without spilling a drop. 

The game celebrates the importance of hospitality in Emirati culture and showcases the skill and grace of the host. Pouring coffee is considered an art form, and participants take pride in their ability to pour the perfect cup. This game not only entertains but also highlights the significance of coffee in Emirati society, where it symbolises friendship, hospitality, and warm welcome.

Al Hosn

Al Hosn, a captivating traditional Emirati game, is often referred to as the Emirati rendition of tug-of-war. This exciting activity not only highlights the significance of strength and teamwork but also offers a fascinating glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of the United Arab Emirates.

In Al Hosn, participants gather around a taut rope, eagerly awaiting the start of the game. Divided into two teams, they position themselves at opposite ends of the rope, bracing themselves for the exhilarating challenge ahead. The game’s objective is to exert a combined effort, using their physical strength, to pull the opposing team across a predetermined line. It is a thrilling display of power, strategy, and determination.

Beyond its physical aspects, Al Hosn holds a deeper cultural significance. It is a testament to the Emirati values of teamwork, cooperation, and unity. The game emphasises the idea that collective effort and collaboration are vital for success in any endeavour. Through Al Hosn, participants learn the importance of relying on one another, fostering a sense of camaraderie and mutual support.

Are the Traditional Games of the UAE still played today?

Yes, traditional games in the UAE are still being played today, although their popularity and prevalence may vary across different regions and generations. While modernisation and the influence of global popular culture have led to a decline in the prominence of traditional games, efforts are being made to preserve and promote these cultural treasures.

In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in traditional games in the UAE, driven by a growing appreciation for the country’s heritage and a desire to reconnect with traditional practices. Cultural organisations, museums, and educational institutions have been actively involved in documenting and promoting traditional games, ensuring that they are preserved to time.

Local communities and families also play an essential role in keeping traditional games alive. They pass down the knowledge and skills associated with these games from one generation to the next, ensuring their continuity.

Moreover, the government of the UAE recognises the importance of preserving its cultural heritage, including traditional games. Various initiatives, such as cultural festivals, community programs, and heritage preservation campaigns, have been implemented to raise awareness and encourage participation in traditional games.


The traditional games of the UAE provide a window into the rich cultural tapestry of the nation. From Siniya’s physical agility to Al-Azi’s storytelling prowess, Mheibis’ strategic thinking, Ghahwa’s hospitality, and Harbeya’s equestrian tradition, these games capture the essence of Emirati heritage. 

Engaging in these traditional pastimes not only brings joy and entertainment but also fosters a deeper appreciation for the values and customs that have shaped the UAE’s identity over centuries. As the UAE continues to embrace modernity, preserving and celebrating these traditional games ensures that the country’s cultural legacy remains alive and cherished for generations to come.

About Author

Hanna Rico

About Author

Hanna Mae Rico is a skilled content writer. With a bachelor's degree in English Language Studies, Hanna has spent over three years working in the digital marketing industry. Her versatility shines through her ability to captivate audiences with lifestyle, travel, and other engaging topics. Her love of written words and her innate ability to transport readers to different places make her a true wordsmith.