Ano is the name of a traditional game the islander’s play every New Years. Ano is the name of the large ball they play with that is the size of a softball but is actually a stone wrapped with leaves. The game is played on a rugby pitch with two teams facing each other within large rectangular boxes running the length of the field. The two rectangles are slightly offset and the server for each team stand directly in front of the opposing teams rectangle. The entire village could probably play if they so desired as the number of players is really limitless. They form lines of 3 or four and can extend back beyond the front line as long as there is still grass left to stand on.
The rules of the game are very similar to volleyball. The servers throw the ano up and whack it with their palm high in the air within the boundary of the opposing team’s rectangle. The opposition players then slap at the ball bouncing it back to the front of their box to the sopopopolo, the catcher who then pitches the retrieved ball to the server who is called the tinopa. This process follows until one team drops their ball or it is hit out of bounds. If both teams fail to successfully bounce the ball back to the front of the rectangle play starts over and each tinopa serves again at the same time. However, if one team drops the ball the other team can keep serving until the opposing team drops the ball again.
The second serve is hit much more forcefully and downward directly into the opposition’s front line of players. These are very boisterous youth who spend most of the time heckling and yelling chants mocking the opposing server. The line drives are batted upwards by the front line back towards the tinopa. This continues until the front line drops the ball. If this happens a point is scored. Once 10 points are scored a set is one. A set is called a taia. After 10 taia are scored a fatele is obtained. The first team to 10 fatele’s wins. This often takes several days of playing four to five hours a day to achieve. (note: the above rules where deduced after several hours of observations and interviews of elders under the influence of yogona. So apologies in advance to all you Ano experts out there!)
The game’s atmosphere is very festive. The front line youth are the most vocal but the back line islanders provide plenty of audible support by banging on breakfast cracker buckets and biscuit tins. After a fatele is won the winning team conducts a mini fatele in the middle of the field. Sometimes the elders give speeches, of course, and after the fatele play then resumes.
This year the sunrise side of the island won the game on day three of play. The opposing team, sunset, was thrown into the ocean and forced to provide a tea for the victors. This seemed an appropriate end to a wonderfully unique and festive game.