When you have no TV, a curfew of 6 PM, no electricity, and time to procrastinate daily field notes, you are probably doing what our grandparents used to do—playing games!
Games are an important part of life in Ghana. They help build relationships and are a great way to pass the time together. It was also a great way for us to gain rapport with the locals by having a reason for hanging around. While there are many local games played among children to the elders in Ghana, the two I grew most fond of were Wallie (properly known as Oware) and Dame (pronounced daum-eh).
My Wallie board game from Ghana sits on the end of this desk. It has a giraffe carved in the brown finish, and when you open it has two rows of six holes like a muffin tin, kind of like Mancala if you are familiar with that game. It has a lot of meaning for me, not just because I had to haggle it down like crazy, but also because I can finally beat someone at it.
The first time I played Wallie was with Monica and Kwame. They were very kind and patient, teaching us the rules with as much English as they understood, their friend hanging over our shoulders pointing to the proper move with his machete. Eventually our group got boards of our own and played nightly. Our host family taught us that there are three ways to play
The first, what I call “around and around and around” is when you take the seeds out of a pocket, and go around the board until you end on an empty pocket. If you land on an empty pocket on your side, then you can take the seeds in the pocket on the other side.
The second, my least favorite, was the “two three” game. You pick up a pocket, but don’t keep going until you hit an empty one. The object is to land in a pocket with two or three seeds so that you can take them. If you happen to have a few in a row, you take them all. This game involved the most strategy of the Wallie variations.
Last was the “fours” game. I was fond of these rules, taking up any pocket with four seeds on my side, but still going around the board until reaching an even four on the opponent’s side or an empty pocket. If you are reading this completely lost, let me know and let’s play.
The second important game at our house was Dame. This was “the game of kings” according to the locals, and is mostly played among the old men in the village. Dame is like Ghanaian checkers, but a lot faster with a lot more strategy. In the beginning of our field study we would go up to the Cocoa House and learn the rules by watching the elder men of the village play.
Later I played with some local kids, got my butt kicked, but still had a great time even though we did not understand a word of the other’s language. We spent hours playing that game, and that is how I made a lot of my neighborhood friends. Eventually I got to the point where I could win without help from the men at the cocoa house, and by the end of my field study I passed the ultimate test. I beat Chase. Twice.
Oh, and picture credits go to Myra, but she didn’t want me to say so because she says, quote, “they are not good pictures.”
(Field Notes 13.12, 29.20, 33.7, 43.13-16, 60.12)