Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Games children play

by Geoffrey Heard

Here in paradise, Vunakabi Village near Rabaul, Papua New Guinea, there is a plethora of kids and a plethora of games.

Right at the moment -- it's the afternoon and the kids are home from school -- two teams of five are playing a game called “tin”. Like the best children’s games, this involves a lot of noise, running around, maniacal activity, and loud disputation about the actual rules and their application.

The total equipment comprises a bunch of empty fish and meat tins (cans) collected from the rubbish heaps of village houses and a ball -- a store-bought rubber one in this case but a missile of banana leaves does as well. They have 15 cans, enough to make a stack five rows high with rows of five, four, three, two, one cans. The venue is a grassed area about the size of a good backyard plus its surrounds -- which include a couple of roughs with long grass and the road and its verge. We have two teams of five, mixed girls and boys in the age bracket 8 to 14.

The game starts with lots of loud disputation about the rules. First, that the teams will be mixed, which team will start the game as the quarry (we’ll called them Team 1) and which as the chasers (Team 2), then the limits of play (no running on the road or into the roughs by Team 1, no running to tag by Team 2 -- which gives the smaller Team 1 players a chance), and finally, when that is decided, the dismissal of a patently self-interested attempt by Team 2 to add more tins to the stack.

Right, we’re ready to play!

Team 1 builds the stack towards one end of the field, then one of them takes the ball and from a much discussed distance finally marked by a heap of discarded thongs/flip flops, throws at the stack to break it. Failure to break the stack in three throws means the ball and ownership of the stack, is turned over. They succeed on the second throw, a kick from a Team 2 member demolishes it completely without scattering the tins too widely, and it is game on!

Team 1 must now rebuild the stack before Team 2 can tag them all with the ball. Rebuilding the stack can be in one go or progressive. Sounds easy enough, but this lot are deadly throwers, even gaining a high percentage of hits when they have to lay-off for a target moving across them, so the rate of tagging can be pretty high.

Amidst much shouting of instructions and encouragement, Team 1 scatters to the boundaries and Team 2 mans up (keeping one player within reach of the tins), passing the ball around, trying to put pressure on. The movement of ball and child is fast, furious and noisy.

Team 1 gradually gets the upper hand, moving play upfield away from the tins. Then one of them lures his opponent into a wild throw. A miss! The ball is in the long grass! In a flash, Team 1’s little Roselynne strikes! All of 8 years of age, she has an uncanny ability to make herself invisible. She initially set herself up on the boundary well away from the tins and made some noisy short forays upfield, but as play moved away, she quietly drifted back and in. The moment she sees the miss she is sprinting, diving, madly rebuilding the stack. Her older sister, Rachel, runs in to help.

They’re nearly finished, but the ball is in the air, coming back hard and flat to a Team 2-er standing over the them. Roselynne is off and away, twisting and turning. Rachel is a little slower, but in sacrificing herself to tagging, gets another tin in place and helps keep Roselynne safe.

Team 1 scatters to the boundaries again. Team 2 mans up but keeps two players near the tins. They know they are in trouble, too much of the stack has been rebuilt, only three more tins need to be put into place to give Team 1 victory. They try to keep play close to the tins, but they can only win by tagging, so they must follow Team 1-ers offering tagging opportunities.

Finally, a Team 2-er tags with an easy short throw up the field. Roselynne is darting in again before the ball has left the hand. Two more tins are stacked; she dashes to safety.

It’s all over bar the shouting now. Team 2 drops a catch, all eyes turn to Roselynne as she darts in, but while they aren’t looking, Dulcie has slipped in from the other side, and the final tin is in place.

And the shouting! Oh my gosh, the shouting! The Collingwood army (notorious followers of Australia’s most loved and hated football team) could take lessons from this lot. Team 1 is not only vociferous in victory, but merciless, chanting glorification of their victory to the skies, recounting how they did it, advising Team 2 of their errors and telling them that they’re about to go down again!

Team 1 wins a string of six games before Team 2 beats them with a cunning set play, a feint then the tagging of Roselynne early in the game. Team 2 gives Team 1 a pounding in the vociferous self-glorification stakes! The two teams swap roles. Team 2 is looking good with a couple of victories before more children arrive.

Too crowded. The tagging team floods the stackers and the game peters out.

But boy, it was fun while it lasted!

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This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2010.

The opinions and comments in this article are his own.

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