Heritage Highlight: Ring Games
Jamaicans are resourceful by nature. In the good old days – at least in my childhood – the word “bored” was not in children’s vocabularies. What we lacked in handheld electronics, we made up for with youthful energy and a repertoire of games requiring nothing more than each other. A favorite pastime was ring games: games played in a circle with a group of friends.
Ring games were fast-paced, interactive, and fun for all. They started spontaneously whenever enough children were in one place for a period of time: break time (aka school recess), wash day by the river, or catching water from springs or stand pipes were some of the best opportunities. We would play Dandy Shandy, Bull Eena Pen, One and Twenty, Farmer in the Dell, What Can You Do Puncinella Likkle Fella, Brown Girl in the Ring, and Bend Down Stucky . While variations abounded, the rules of each game were simple and easily communicated, encouraging participation from the very young to adults. Let’s play a few.
What can You do Puncinella Likkle Fella: This game has one player in the middle of the ring, always given the name “Puncinella.” While everyone else claps their hands singing “What can you do Puncinella lickle fella,” Puncinella stops in front of a random member of the ring and performs an action of his or her choosing – a gesture, dance move, or feat of coordination – which all the other players must mimic while singing “We can do it too Puncinella likkle fella…” The person Puncinella stops in front of then takes on the role.
Farmer in the Dell: A ring is formed with one person identified as the farmer. While the ring sings (“The farmer in the dell, the farmer in the dell, high ho the dairy-o the farmer in the dell”) the farmer slaloms between the members of the ring, darting into and out of the circle. As the ring sings “The farmer takes a wife,” the farmer takes a member of the ring by the hand and continues to zig zag, with the “wife” in tow. As “The wife the takes a child,” they form a line of three. The child then takes a nurse, who takes a dog, who takes a cat, who takes a rat, who takes the cheese. This line then loses members in the same order, to the tune of “The farmer runs away,” and so on. After the rat has rejoined the ring, “The cheese stands alone” in the middle of the circle. The children in the ring then sing “We all take a bite,” as they collapse the circle and crowd around the cheese.
Dandy Shandy: This game is a bit like a cross between dodgeball and monkey in the middle. Two players stand on either end of a group of players who are standing in the middle. The end players use a ball to hit player(s) in the middle. The ball is usually made from tightly crumpled paper and tied with a string or an empty juice box stuffed with paper and then pounded into a roundish shape. Anyone hit is eliminated, and the last player standing wins the game. This can be a long process as some center players are experts at dodging the ball, often producing spectacular gymnastic moves in the process.
It was common place for children to wind up with a good lickin' (spanking), for taking too long to fulfill an errand because they stopped to play and got so caught up in the moment that time slipped away. Fear of corporal punishment was often overcome, though, by the immense appeal and fun of ring games.
Walk good 'til wi ketch yuh next time.
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