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Stabroek News

Down memory lane with games children play
published: Tuesday | February 6, 2007

Keisha Shakespeare-Blackmore, Staff Reporter

Children playing 'London Bridge'.

There was a time when children played games that were more physical and helped to develop their social skills. Today, children often play games that are less challenging, both physically and socially.

Today's games require no more than a computer monitor and hand-held gadgets, these include the popular Nintendo, all of which are early preparation for life as a couch potato. As such, combined with other factors such as poor dieting, more children are becoming overweight and obese. In fact, this kind of play is usually accompanied by eating non-stop, and more frequently junk food.

In rural Jamaica, many children are not as privileged to have these hi-tech games and they make do with the little they have. As the famous Jamaica saying goes, "Tun yu han' mek fashion". The games played by children in these areas reflect this saying. Some of the more popular ones are dandy shandy, jox, gig, a variety of ring games, hop-scotch, bat up and catch, Chinese skip, and 'stuckie'. Also, children were more in tune with nature though sometimes the boys were a little more mischievous.

Boys tend to be very rough. They climb trees, make little trucks out of used juice boxes, play marbles, and 'taw' or 'spawns' (throwing rocks trying to hit the opponent's playing piece to get points). One of their favourite activities is catching lizards with grass straws or with loops made from the slender veins of the coconut bough. Then armed with the lizards, they chase girls and this activity becomes very useful exercise.

Nanny Goat

Roger Dunstan (left) and Donavon Clunie show how they were able to catch this lizard with loops made from coconut veins. - photos by Ian Allen/Staff Photographer

Another fun game was playing in the 'nanny goat' or 'nanny buck buck's' nest. A nanny goat is a little insect that makes little craters in loose dirt. In days past, children were not afraid to get down and dirty. They would use their finger to disrupt the nest while saying "nanny, nanny show me the way to Kingston", and it is said any direction they appeared from would in fact be the way to Kingston. In some parts of Clarendon they would say "come nanny, nanny, mama gwine buy yu rice and peas". When the insect appeared, they would take it in their hands and play with it for a while before letting it go.

Dandy Shandy

Dandy shandy is an exciting ball game requiring at least three players. There are two pitchers each standing at opposite ends of the third player (in the middle). In most rural parishes, parents could not afford a ball so some the children made their own. They would stuff a used drink box with lots of paper. The game is usually played by girls but boys would sometimes play, mostly as pitchers. Some of the ruder boys might slip a stone or two in the box, especially if the one in the middle is hard to get out.

The game is all about speed and all kinds of gymnastic moves. The pitchers try to throw the ball at 'lightning' speed, attempting to take out the runner. The runner, on the other hand, tries to dodge the ball by all means. Runners must jump, leap, or duck to avoid being hit. The game gets extremely exciting as the player in the middle does acrobatic jumps! If the ball goes between the legs you will hear the onlookers shouting 'Salad'! If it's a female player in the middle, as she leaps off her feet, legs splayed, her skirt might 'ride up' past her waist. If the ball misses, you get one point but if you get a 'cock up' (leaping off the ground with both legs spread apart in the air), you get 10 points instantly. But if the ball tips (slightly touches you), you are out (if you're playing 'tips' that is). At the start of the game, some groups decide 'tips' is not an out.

Bat and Ball/Baseball

Roger gives us a closer view.

Bat and ball is usually a break/lunch time and Sunday evening game. Many times, a stuffed juice boxs substituted for a real ball. Though the game is similar to America's baseball, it is somewhat different, as Jamaican children used their hands as the bat.

There were two teams with any number of players but the teams had to have equal members. The ball was made from a juice box stuffed with newspaper or any scrap of paper. There were three bases whether it's a tree, building, rock or just a visiblymarked spot on the ground.

How the game is played

The batters stand in a line as each person bats and runs to a base. The pitcher stands a couple of feet away from the batter and tries to catch the ball. The other members are considered fielders who work along with the pitcher. The batter throws the ball up in the air and gives it a sturdy strike with the palm of the hand. Once the ball is out of the batter's hand, the batter then races to the first, second or third base before making it back to home base (which is the line-up of batters). The aim is to reach the base without getting hit, otherwise that player is out. When the entire team is out, it's the other team's time to bat.

Now an adult, Vanessa Taylor told Lifestyle that she recalls playing baseball as she called it in her community of Milk River in Clarendon. She said she used to love the game and played it with her friends every chance she got. She added that many times her grandmother left her chores to do but playing was more fun. Of course she got a fine spanking at the end of the day. She said that the last day she played she was humiliated before all her friends.

"I was on a roll and I hit the ball and took off at bird's speed. I did not see the clothesline. The next thing I knew, I was flying in the air and landed on my buttocks. All my friends laughed at me and they teased me for a while," said Taylor.


Rajhaun Stennett, five years old, is engrossed in his 'nanny goat' nest.

Cricket was then and still is a major game played on the island. Vivian Crawford, executive director at Institute of Jamaica, notes that as a boy his favourite game was cricket. He said in his community of Moore Town in Portland, cricket was a big thing. He said that the boys would go to the neighbouring communities to compete.

"Coming back after a game, you can hear them from a distance. They usually start singing "glory be to God we are home once more" as soon they reached Red Hills (neighbouring community to Moore Town)," said Mr. Crawford. He added that people would gather around the truck as it pulled in to find out the result.

He pointed out that he was a very good fielder and he loved it. However, he lost interest after he had a little mishap.

"I was about 11 years old when one day I was playing and I got a 'helluva lick' on my thumb. I thought it was broken but it was not," he said. He further stated that he tied the thumb with custard apple leaves and vinegar, a home remedy, to ease the pain.

Crawford also informed Lifestyle that he used to play a game called 'duck'. The game was played in the river. Each time you swim or dive, you grab someone and duck (lower) them in the water. He noted that he loved that game so much that at his first day of school during break time he went for a swim. He chuckles as he recalls the other children telling him he cannot swim because he was at school.

On the other hand, Michael Nicholson, events specialist at the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission, said his favourite game was playing cart. He made trucks from an empty paint container top and cotton reel.

Ring Games

Ring games were and still are the most popular children's games. The first step is to form a circle. Some of them require that one person stands in the centre while others have a few people at a time running around in the ring. The more popular ones are 'Brown girl in the ring', 'What can you do Punchinella little fellow,' 'I am inna well', and 'Farmer in the dell'.

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