12 January 2012

What we just can't miss - playing in Ghana and beyond

Don't Fence Me In: Traditions Bent, Part II. Preface

Georgina and I were recently rummaging around Cameroon for some things to do.  It wasn’t difficult to find a few activities, but it involved a lot of travelling – by train, bus, car, moto, horse and foot.  So we invented some games for the ride.  Here were the most successful at keeping us entertained:

Game #1.      Hold the camera steady and take random (and, at times, sneaky) snaps of interesting scenes. 

Sometimes, they go oh-so-right and
we wind up with amusing pictures.   
from the back of a moto
football game out of a train window

Other times, we get blurry messes.  Then we express our disappointment.

And sometimes Georgina makes comments
that could be profound in another context:
“All I got was the shadow of a tree.” 

Game #2.     Compile “Most Ridiculous Quotes of the Day”.  Please note that mine sound more stupid than ridiculous.  Please note that Georgina sounds cool and wise. 

26 December 2011
K: “I really like trees.”
K: “There’s good things on your side (of the road) too!”

27 December 2011
G: “I’ve been surrounded by hills my entire life.”
K: “Haven’t we all cried like that goat at one time or another?
29 December 2011
G: “I could totally rock pantaloons.”

31 December 2011
K: “What’s the bottom of a bag – it’s all relative.”
K: “In your own village, you never stumble.”*

*Yes...I have invented a proverb. Origin? The roads of Rhumsiki, Cameroun: Georg and I pick our way through the dark while our guide walks confidently over a grumbly path.  I know, wow.

Ok, on with the subject of games.  Gazing out windows, squinting through Harmattan haze or walking the green streets of Yaounde, I naturally saw a lot of kids at play.  Like boys trying desperately to swing on bike tire tubes that they had slung around a tree branch.  And a group of four year olds with big sticks fighting trees and imaginary foes. 

Do we all play the same games?  I would have loved swinging from one of those tubes, although I doubt it went smoothly for those boys (those things never do).  Georgina remarked, as we watched the tree ass-kicking posse, that her little sister used to smack trees with sticks in order to “wake them up” (no, I don't think she still does it).  And I think everyone in the world plays tag.  It’s just plain cost-effective. 

There's a game here called, “Antoakyere”.  It’s a traditional Akan (the largest tribe in Ghana) children’s game, meaning (in as close a translation as possible), “Something is behind you, but you have missed it”.  How do you play? The kids sit in a circle. One carries a cloth or rag and runs around the group singing:

antoakyere o antoakyere o
Group response:
yie yie yie!

antoakyere o antoakyere o
yie yie yie!

obiba bewu o
(translation: somebody's child is about to suffer some fate)
yie yie yie

Rules: No one is allowed to look back. One kid runs around the circle and secretly drops the cloth behind one of the seated children while continuing to sing. Two options: 1) kid realizes the cloth is behind him, picks it and runs to tag the child who dropped the cloth, or 2) kid doesn’t realize the cloth is behind him, and is reached again from the other side of the circle – this kid gets beaten (um, playfully) by all the children until he runs for refuge (pre-selected by child council).  Then play again.  For all you Americans: Does this remind you of Duck Duck Goose, or what?

It's by playing that children learn societal roles, norms, and values.   According to D. A. Akuoko, Antoakyere teaches children to “have endurance, be watchful and a bit skeptical in life as all that glitters is not gold.”  So every verse and every pass around the circle is training ground for relationships to be structured, rules to be followed, successes to be won and failures to be survived.    

Kids don't care.  But the learning bit is something they just can't miss while they're running circles around their friends. In whatever country.  I’m not exactly sure what I gleaned from Duck Duck Goose.  I would have flopped at being watchful playing Antoakyere, since it still seems to come as a surprise that there might be "good things" on both sides of a road (ugh).  At least I made up my own proverb.  "You've done well," says my colleague, when I tell him this story.  Maybe I picked something up, after all.

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