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African-American Games

Young enslaved girls grinding corn.Written documentation about African children in Virginia is limited. When African-Americans are mentioned in print, they are usually referred to in terms of the labor they provided, their value, or as runaways. Likewise, there is practically no information about the games colonial African-American children played. Even though enslaved children were expected to work as soon as they were physically mature enough to do so, they certainly had time to play as well.

Some African-American games taught children to work together—often to a cadence—as a well-coordinated team. Working to a rhythm relieved boredom and helped field workers establish a measured pace for their work.

The following two games are of West African origin, probably from the area known today as Ghana. Both games are accompanied by a rhythmic cadence and teach coordination skills. Such skills were necessary to perform agricultural labor in eighteenth-century Virginia.

[NOTE: You will need one stick (approx. 6" long and ½" diameter) for each player.]

  1. Seat players in a large circle on the floor. Give one stick to each player. Have players place their sticks in front of them.

  2. Teach students the words to the following phrase:

    Sae' sae' brae wah a deisha [Pronounced "Sa, sa, bray wah ah deesha."]
    Have students practice until they have memorized the words.

  3. Start the game. As students begin reciting the phrase together, each player picks up his or her stick and places it in front of the player to their right, repeating this step over and over while continuously reciting the phrase. As students get more proficient, increase the speed of the phrase and the passing action.
The action continues until a player drops, misses, or otherwise fails to pass a stick properly to the player on their right. As a result of this mistake, he or she is out of the game. Resume play.

Play continues until only one player remains. That player wins the game!

[Pronounced "tué tué."]

"Tua Tua" is a song praising food and the woman who has prepared it. The song eventually became a game for children. It is played and sung in 4/4 time:

Tué tué marima tué tué
Tué tué marima tué tué
La la la la la la la la tué tué
Have students sit in a big circle [NOTE: This works best when done with lots of students.] While repeating the words of the song, have students do the following:
  1. On the down beat: touch the ground twice, touch the thighs twice, turn to the partner on the right and pat hands together twice, then clap their own hands twice.

  2. Repeat the sequence—ground (2), thighs (2), turn to partner on left and pat hands together (2), clap own hands (2).

  3. Continue and repeat. Do NOT change the order of hand clapping at any point.
As students get more proficient, you may wish to increase the speed of the words and the hand movements. It can be surprisingly difficult at a fast speed!