A Retrospective of Yoruba Indigenous Games and Plays

Elaboration, 2019
18 Pages



The debate on games and plays as universal phenomena is now irrelevant. Every climes of the world is known with its specifics. Yorubaland is no exception to this. The Yoruba engages in ìjàkadì, ayò ọlọ́pọ́n, òkìtì títa , búúrú, bojú-bojú, bọ́ọ́kọ-bọ́ọ̀kọ, párá-onídèmodè, sansalùbọ́, gbádìí-gbádìí, tẹ̀ẹ̀tẹ́ and others. It is however regrettable that the Yoruba Indigenous Games and Plays (IGPs) has given way to the foreign ones – notably, Western model as badminton, athletics, chess, football, basketball, hockey, volleyball, table tennis and others – which continues to addict them. This has been blamed on global exchange of culture for which the Yoruba had been at the receiving side. Using the descriptive and analytical modes of historical interpretation, the findings of this study validated that the Yoruba have distinctive games and plays which firmly connects with their cultural needs and environmental circumstances. The paper concludes that Yoruba IGPs should not be relegated especially with the current economic recession; it could be another source of income generation to the nation. Moreover, it can serve as a veritable unidentified weapon for combating crime. Therefore, it should be revisited and reviewed to world standard.

RAJI Afeez Tope

12 09 2019


Individuals as constituents of the society have gone through stages of biological, psychological, mental and physical development to attain their present state, so much that their stories is nothing but that of progress in some aspects and retrogress in others. Concretely, their lifespan lies between the ends of play and unplay (work and unwork). In fulfilling the play side of life, the Yoruba engages in various indigenous games and plays. Play and games are taken by many people as universal phenomena. Although these are not always regarded as sport, their relations to sport is very enormous, so much so that we can state that sporting activities are also universal.1 Though, some scholars distinguish between sport, on one hand and plays, games, and physical activities, on the other hand. According to Ipadeola,2 ‘sport is highly institutionalised'. It also needs to be stated that the concept of sport is Western and contemporary but its content and applicability relatively subsides in every climes of the world and it is rather a sense of time and space. Pre-colonial Yoruba society (hereafter, traditional Yoruba society) should therefore be rightly concerned with games and plays as its equivalent for sport in its indigenous environment. This is why Momoh noted that: “we have been sporting from time immemorial, before the advent of the white; we’ve been running in the jungle and throwing implements”.3 This, in no way suggests that Africans are barbarian, rather a form of distinctive games and plays. It further presupposes that their form of games and plays is not space bound such that it even finds expression in the jungles- while farming or hunting.

John Blacking corroborates that:

Physical activities that have been variously described by ethnographers as “plays”, “games”, “sports”, “pastimes”, “physical education”, “recreations” and “dances” were generally classed as extensions of human aesthetic and lucid capabilities, and integrated into social life and the continuing education of all members of a community- not only as reflections and reinforcement of cultural tradition, but also as means of enhancing people’s creativity and adaptation to changing circumstances.4

This is true of traditional Yoruba society as shall be shown subsequently. The study of sport in indigenous Yoruba society poses two major problems. First, there is a critical lack of information about what might be described as “play, games and sport”; and second, there must be considerable debates as to whether any activity in traditional Yoruba societies corresponded to what is now understood by the Western concept and practice of sport.5 The lack of information would herein be rectified as much as possible thereby contributory to available debates. John Blacking’s conception of this subject need be engaged here as a clarifying compass as he avers; “I am not convinced that sport (plays, games) is a novel human phenomenon, and I suggest that many processes of practicing and making sense of sport had their analogues in traditional African societies”.6 For the purpose of this work, several aboriginal physical activities would be regarded as Indigenous Games and Plays (hereafter contracted to IGP), as the content and context of these activities impacted traditional Yorubaland on concrete terms. Though, no attempt is made here to discuss these sports in the specifics but, some parts of its practices were brought to bear on this piece where necessary.

Conceptual Clarifications

This study would clarify some terms used in the paper as it relates to the theme. Play

According to Bruce, “play is a spontaneous and active process in which thinking, feeling and doing can flourish; when we play, we are freed to be inventive and creative”.7 Playing is one of most important aspects of life (sic). It is what children and young people do. Play is a biological drive. it has little or nothing to do with adults – in fact some adult intervention can seriously damage the process.8 In the same light, Piaget9 observes that it “is children’s means of assimilating the world, making sense of their experience to make it part of themselves”. The opposite process is what he calls “accommodation” in which children are learning to fit in with the demands of reality. Although play can be a serious as well as a joyous activity, the crucial condition is that errors do not have serious consequences.10 The importance and excitement of play lies in its ability to link the real world and the inner mental world of the child. Making sense of the world is an enormous task for young children. They are constantly at risk of being overwhelmed by events or feelings.11 In a seminal text in the field of play studies - Homo Ludens - Johan Huizingaconceives play as:

a free activity standing quite consciously outside 'ordinary' life as being 'not serious' but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it … It promotes the formation of social groupings that tend to surround themselves with secrecy and to stress the difference from the common world by disguise or other means.”.12

This recalls the observation of Gregory Bateson that “the evolution of play may have been an important step in the evolution of communication”,13 namely, the ability to recognise that a signal is a signal and not necessarily a mood. Play combat for example is not a real combat,14 rather a means of communication. For Bo Kampamann, “play is an open-ended territory in which make-believe and world-building are crucial factors”.15 true to this, when children engages in some Yoruba Indigenous plays,16 they are totally in a different, imaginary world which ceases either by interference from (adults) other than their clique or any natural phenomena as hunger or rain.

Importantly, Johan cautions that:

When speaking of play as something known to all, and when trying to analyse or define the idea expressed in that word, we must always bear in mind that the idea as we know it is defined and perhaps limited by the word we use for it. Word and idea are not born of scientific or logical thinking but of creative language, which means of innumerable languages-for this act of "conception" has taken place over and over again. Nobody will expect that every language, in forming its idea (of) and expression for play, could have hit on the same idea or found a single word for it, in the way that every language has one definite word for "hand" or "foot". The matter is not as simple as that. We can only start from the play-concept that is common to us.17

It is therefore obvious from the fore that any meaningful designation of play should be considerate of the local content of the indigenous people. It is worthy of note that in traditional Yoruba society play is not just a pastime activity; it has the potential to serve as an important tool in numerous aspects of daily life.


Games have existed among many ancient peoples and are known in all contemporary human cultures. It has been suggested that the playing of games is one of the keys for defining characteristics of man.18 Oladiti opines that: “it is an activity that involves physical, mental and psychological forces exercised in a competitive manner through human actions. It could take a form of dancing, music, drumming, ayò and indigenous wrestling (Ẹkẹ or Ẹ̀mù).19 To him, it appears the notion of competitiveness and skills are cardinal to a meaningful designation of game. Bo Kampmann supposes that “Games are confined areas that challenge the interpretation and optimizing of rules and tactics”.20 Games has also been seen as the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.21 Though the obstacle is an estimated one in that it is a pre-conceived venture.

Significantly, Johan explains that games are forms of play. He notes that: “Play is often interpreted as frivolous; yet the player can be intently focused on their objective, particularly when play is structured and goal-oriented, as in a game”.22 It follows therefore that a game is a structured and goal oriented play. It should be clear that game is different from play in comparative categories, but there is what I would call a point of interconnection (hereafter, POI, as shown in fig.2). In Playing and Gaming: Reflections and Classifications, Bo Kampmann differentiates between the "play-mode" and "game-mode." The trick is to view gaming as something that takes place on a higher level, structurally as well as temporally. When it comes to play, the installation of the form of the play-world-non-play-world distinction must, performatively, feedback on itself during play: continually rearticulating that formal distinction within the play-world, so as to sustain the internal ordering of the play-world. However, in the game-mode, this rearticulation is already presupposed as a temporal and spatial incarceration that protects the rule-binding structure of a particular game from running off target. In other words: games should not be play; but that does not imply that they do not require play. This means, in effect, that in the play-mode the deep fascination lies in the oscillation between play and non-play, whereas game-mode presses forward one's tactical capabilities to sustain the balance between a structured and an un-structured space. In play-mode one does not want to fall back into reality (although there is always the risk of doing so). In game-mode it is usually a matter of climbing upwards to the next level and not lose sight of structure.23 it is noted that the form logic of plays and games is all about transgressing boundaries and assuming demarcations. This is why Momoh cautions that “plays might be organized with no standard rules, games means that ‘sanity’ has been injected into the erstwhile play”.

Play and Game: Boundaries and Transgressions 24

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1

The non-play world is what everybody is enmeshed in. it could be eating, sleeping, transacting, washing and so on. Hampmann refers to this initial stroke of distinction as “the transgression of play”.25 what should be noted is that, there is interconnection between the play-mode and game-mode and the former traverse into the latter as much as the latter reverses into the former. The first stroke of transgression gravitates between the non-play side of life and elapse into the second order complexity (play-mode) as did the second stroke of transgression over to the third order complexity (game mode).

Yoruba Indigenous Games and Plays: A retrospective study

There is no single universally acceptable definition for games or plays; the words have been extended over a wide range of activities all of which possesses certain related components. The closest representation and equivalence of both in traditional Yoruba society is eré Ìdárayá, literally, health induced play. One can infer from the name itself that the first aim of instituting such fit is to induce sound health in the participant, but this is not the only reason or function. Others include intellectual alertness, building of physical strength, burning of excessive fats off the body, building of strong family ties, cementing new friendship, entertainment, relaxation, entrenchment of patriarchal structures thereby downplaying women’s role and enriching the body Yoruba linguistic culture. Games may be seen as a set of activities and a pattern of behavior that stimulates physical and mental alertness in humans. Indigenous games in this context therefore, may be conceptualized as an indigenous socialization mechanism aided by skillful activities and instituted with the aim of exercising the soul and body thereby inducing excitement and contributory to sound health. Since game is (a form of and) an advanced play, its initial conception would be adopted for play as well for the purpose of this study.

Generally, games and play in pre-colonial Yorubaland vary greatly, Alabi Sodiimu26 in his Eré Ṣíṣe ní Ilẹ̀ Yorùbá (plays and games in Yorubaland) broadly classified them into two; eré àgbàlagbà (elder’s game) and eré omodé (children’s game). Though no mention is made of the examples for eré àgbàlagbà but he did for eré omodé as comprising of (a) Búúrú (b) Bojú-bojú (c) Bọ́ọ́kọ-bọ́ọ̀kọ (d) Párá-onídèmodè (e) Sansalùbọ́ (f) Gbádìí-gbádìí (g) Porogún ilá (h) Adéndélé (i) Ìdí-ọdán (j) Àlúbami (k) kí ní h’ewú (l) kí ní ń lẹ́jẹ̀ (m) Ẹyẹ mélo (n) A kìí gbè é lẹ́mẹẹta (o) Wòrú o (p) Mo pẹyẹ kẹ́yẹ kan tolongo wáyé (q) Ìmọ́. In a related development, Adiamo27 mentions Ìdò, Abú, Òkòtó and Ìjàkadì/Ẹkẹ/Ẹ̀mù. Komolafe categorizes them as including Eré Ayó (A wore or Marcela Game), Eré Ìjàkadì (wrestling), Eré Ààrín (Yoruba Traditional Billiards Game), Eré Òkòtó (Snail-Shell Game) and Ere Kànnà Kànnà (Slingshot Game). In addition to the games mentioned, Babalola28 identifies Eré Ògúnòr érè Ọdẹ (Hunters’ Games). It is obvious from the fore that, games and play are a part of daily life in traditional Yoruba society, given its numeric proliferation. It is against this backdrop that an analysis of its noticeable significance at this juncture would not be out of place. Lavelle in Ipadeola indeed notes that:

What is not well known is that these games taught personal and social values, which were a curriculum for their way of life. These practices taught each generation values and personal qualities that are reflective through indigenous lifestyles and culture to the present day. Qualities such as honesty, courage, respect, personal excellence and gratitude for guidance of parents, elders and communities prepare children and youth for the responsibility of adulthood.29

This suggests on the explicit that Yoruba IGP are not only an indispensable channel of individual growth process but as well a useful socialization mechanism.


1 A.P. Ipadeola, “Public/Private Dichotomy in Pre-Colonial Yoruba Society and Gender Inequality in Sports in Contemporary Africa: Towards a Conscious Gender Neutralization in Contemporary Sports”, in Middle-East Journal of Scientific Research 22 (8), 2014, p. 1.

2 Ibid.

3 Oral Interview with Dr. Dan Momoh, a Lecturer, aged 43 years old, at Physical Education Department, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, on Wednesday, 5th April, 2017.

4 John Blacking, “Games and Sport in Pre-colonial African society” in W.J. Baker and J. A. Mangan (eds.), Sport in Africa: Essays in Social History, New York: Africana Publishing Company, 2014, p.3.

5 John Blacking’s discussions on categorization of sports in traditional Africa in his Games and Sport in Pre-colonial African society…, p.4.

6 Ibid. p.5.

7 T. Bruce, Cultivating and Creativity: for Babies, Toddler and Young Children, London: Hodder Publishers, 2011, pp.1-15

8 www.playwales.org.uk, on 13-04-2017, 07:59 pm.

9 J. Piaget, Play, Dreams and Imitation in Childhood. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1951, p.2.

10 www.playwales.org.uk, op.cit.

11 J. Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1944, p.28.

12 John Blacking, Games and Sport in Pre-colonial African society… p.18.

13 Ibid., p.18.

14 Bo Kampmann Walther, Playing and Gaming: Reflections and Classifications, http://www.gamestudies.org/0301/walther/ on 13-04-2017, 07:29 pm.

15 Ibid.

16 Bayo Ogundijo, Ere´mo?de´, Ibadan: Penthouse Publications (Nig), 2005, pp. 2-78.

17 J. Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture,… p. 28.

18 O.A. Adedayo, “Optimal Strategies in Two-Person Zero-Sum Games”, A Seminar paper presented at Covenant University, Ota, Nigeria. May 25, 2005.

19 Oral Interview with Dr. Oladiti, A. A., a Lecturer, aged 48 years old, at GNS Department, LAUTECH, Ogbomosho, on Wednesday, 11th May, 2016. Oladiti is a Socio-Cultural Historian.

20 Bo Kampmann Walther, Playing and Gaming: Reflections and Classifications,… op.cit.

21 Ibid.

22 Stephen Nachmanovitch, Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art, London: GP Putnams Sons, 1991, pp.2-5.

23 This is based on Hampmann’s classification of gaming and playing.

24 Bo Kampmann Walther…, op.cit.

25 Ibid.

26 Alabi Sodiimu, Ere´ S?i´s?e Ni´ Ile?` Yoru`ba´, in E?gbe?´ Ako?´mo?le´de Yoru`ba´ Ile` Na`i`ji´ri´a`, “Yoru`ba´ Gbo`de” Fo?´lu´u´mu` Ki´n-i´n-ni´ a`ti I`keji`, Lagos: Macmillan Nigeria Publishers Ltd., 1986, p. 23.

27 Oral Interview with Pa Raji Adiamo, Retiree, 71 years, at his residence, Oshogbo, on Sunday, 15th May, 2016.

28 Adeboye Babalola, “Ere´ O`gu´n” in Oludare Olajubu (ed.), I`we´ A`sa` I`bi´le` Yoru`ba´, Ikeja: Longman, 1978. Cited in Ipadeola, A.P., op.cit.

29 A.P. Ipadeola, “Public/Private Dichotomy in Pre-Colonial Yoruba Society and Gender Inequality in Sports in Contemporary Africa: Towards a Conscious Gender Neutralization in Contemporary Sports”,… op.cit.

Excerpt out of 18 pages


A Retrospective of Yoruba Indigenous Games and Plays
Cultural Hisory
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
The debate on games and plays as universal phenomena is now irrelevant. Every climes of the world is known with its specifics. Yorubaland is no exception to this. The Yoruba engages in ìjàkadì, ayò ọlọ́pọ́n, òkìtì títa , búúrú, bojú-bojú, bọ́ọ́kọ-bọ́ọ̀kọ, párá-onídèmodè, sansalùbọ́, gbádìí-gbádìí, tẹ̀ẹ̀tẹ́ and others. It is however regrettable that the Yoruba Indigenous Games and Plays (IGPs) has given way to the foreign ones, therefore a retrospect of the Yoruba IGPs becomes imperative
Yoruba, Cultural Studies, Games and Plays
Quote paper
Mr. Afeez Tope Raji (Author), 2019, A Retrospective of Yoruba Indigenous Games and Plays, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/506240


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