Session 16/19

Page 3/6 Traditional childhood games

Traditional childhood games

Play is not just a pastime activity, but a tool to transmit culture. The cultural elements within play give children an understanding of their culture and support their cultural identity.

In African culture there is a rich tradition for play and different singing games. Through play and singing games children can access knowledge about their social context and apprehend cultural values, such as good behaviour, discipline, hard work, tenacity and leadership roles. So traditional games and play represent the culture of a society and children learn about their society and cultural heritage through these traditional games. 

Traditional games and plays a very beneficial for children, as it helps them develop a cultural identity and indirectly learn about norms and values. This supports their feeling of self-usefulness and helps them perform their future adult roles.


In African cultures, children’s games have been passed orally from generation to generation. Traditional plays and games are usually physical activities with a certain set of rules that must be followed. They can be competitive, and a participant may engage in them for recognition, status or prestige.

A traditional play or game is as an activity undertaken by children and youth. The activity is often accompanied by singing narrative songs. It is an important part of childhood culture. Traditional plays and games are structured to provide amusement to both adults and children. For instance, the game Nyama-Nyama-Nyama from Kenya, Ampe from Ghana, Agatambaro k’Umwana from Rwanda, Kudoda from Zimbabwe or the popular traditional African children’s game Mamba.


The group chooses one leader. The leader starts the game by shouting “Nyama-Nyama-Nyama” – which is Swahili for “meat”. The other players jump and repeat after the leader. The leader then mentions different animals. If the meat of the animal is eaten in Kenya (or the country you play the game in), the other players jump and shout “nyama”. If the leader mentions an animal whose meat is not eaten, the players must stand still. If a player reacts, he is out of the game. The game continues until only one player is left and he becomes the winner.


The group marks an area with boundaries for the game. Every player must stand within the boundaries during the game. One player is chosen to be the mamba. The mamba runs around and tries to catch the other players. When a player is caught, he becomes part of the mamba’s body by holding onto the mamba’s shoulders or waist. Only the first player of the mamba body can catch other players. The other player of the mamba body can help by not allowing other players to get past. The game continues until only one player is left and he/she is the winner.


The group chooses a leader and the children stand in a semi-circle facing the leader. The leader faces one of the players at the end of the semi-circle. Both clap hands and jump. They jump again, placing one foot forward. If they put the same foot forward, the leader is out and takes the player’s place. The new leader then repeats the action with the next player in the semi-circle.

If they put different feet forward, the leader remains in his/her position and moves on to the next player.


Players sit in a circle with a bowl of pebbles (small stones) in the middle. The first player throws a pebble in the air. Meanwhile the same player tries to pick up as many pebbles as he can, before catching the pebble he threw. Then it is the next player’s turn. The player with the most pebbles wins.

Agatambaro k’Umwana

Children sit together in a circle facing each other. One of them is chosen as the game leader and he/she takes the hand tissue and properly hides it in the hands without anyone noticing. The child then goes around the circle shouting and singing “where is the child’s hand tissue”, and the others answer – “we see it has crossed there”, and the game leader says “can you find it”?
The other children say “nonono”. The leader secretly finds someone to put the hand tissue behind and then quickly runs around the circle. When the game leader surrounds the circle to the point area where he/she left the hand tissue, the person in front of the hand tissue is considered as the looser, if he/she has not been able to catch the game leader while running around the circle. The looser becomes the game leader and the game continues.


Divide adult participants into groups of 3-4.

15 minutes: identify and discuss a game from your childhood

15 minutes: have every group present their game and teach it to the other groups


10 minutes

  • How did playing the games make you feel?
  • Why do you think it is fun/ not fun?
  • How does play make your children feel?
  • Why is it important to encourage play?