Two Games From Africa

Paul Brewster

"Brief Communications", American Anthropologist, N.S.46,1944, 268-269

For the past three years I have been collecting material for a comparative study of the guessing-game "How Many Horns Has the Buck?," which is the "Bucca Bucca" mentioned by Petronius.1 During this period I have carried on an extensive correspondence with folklorists, archivists, collectors, and other interested persons in all the European countries with the exception of Rumania and Lithuania, with folklorists and other scholars in Japan and China, in Australia and New Zealand, in South and Central America, and with missionaries in all parts of Africa. As was to be expected, many of these correspondents were unable to find any versions of "How Many Horns?" still current in their respective countries, and frequently they tried to make amends by sending me texts and descriptions of other games, sometimes analogues and sometimes games of an entirely different type. Two of these I present here.

Both of these games were contributed by Rev. Lyndon Harries, of the Universities' Mission to Central Africa, Newala, Lindi, T. T. The first is a game played by Makua children, who call it Kikote nno, kilye nno ("Let me refuse here-let me eat here").

First, a child draws with his thumb in the dust a diagram similar to that below.

Umake Diagram

He begins in the middle and works his thumb in a circular movement until he reaches the point marked Umake, which means "the Coast." The center starting-point represents his home. Two counters of different colors are placed in the center, one for each child. These may be seeds or pebbles. Another counter is chosen for placing in the hands. The dots represent halting-places on the way to the "Coast." One child will claim, say, the red seed, another the yellow. The first child will play with the third counter, placing it in one hand secretly so as to confuse the other child. Then he will place both fists in the lap or against the hand of a third child, not necessarily the same one each time. The second player will try to guess in which fist the counter is hidden, saying "Kikote nno" as he taps one fist and "Kilye nno" as he taps the other. If he is right, he can move his yellow counter on to a halting-place. If he is wrong, he stays put, or, if he has started his journey, called nikwaha, he will be put back one place, and the other player moves on one place. Whoever arrives first says, "Umake kilopia" or "Umbwani kilopia," meaning "I have reached the Coast."2

In a Yao game played also by the Makonde the children stand in a circle, each rubbing the palms of his hands together and singing "Kaukwalule kwalule" ("Let him be covered, covered"). Then at the climax of this chant, one of them will clap his hands, not, however, until the chant has changed to "Kajave, kajave, kajave" ("Clap, clap, clap your hands"). The player who clapped his hands will be seized by the other children nearest him and taken into the center of the ring, where he will kneel. One child will stand behind him as he kneels, and will cover his eyes with his hands. Then the players chant "Vanyamputile? Vanyamputile?" ("Who was it hit you? Who was it hit you?"). One of them then comes into the center and hits the kneeling child a tap on the head. When the player who is kneeling begins to point with his hand, there is an expectant silence. Finally he indicates someone and says, "Anona ambutile" ("So-and-so it was who hit me"). If he is right, the child indicated is seized and placed in the middle and the performance is repeated. If the guesser is wrong, the children shout" Mkosele. Tampute soni!" ("You are wrong. Let's hit him again!").

1. I have already published two short papers on the subject: A Roman Game and Its Survival on Four Continents (Classical Philology, XXXVIII, 2), 134-137; and The 'Kitte ande bol Game of India (Southern Folklore Quarterly, VII, 3),149-152. A third and longer article (40 pp.) will appear in the next number of Bealoideas, journal of the Irish Folklore Commission.
2. In The Yao form of the game two parallel lines are used instead of the spiral form.

Last update August 5, 2010