You can learn much about a society by watching children play. The games and activities that they embrace can be instructive about the society in which they are raised. The children at Cornerstone Children’s Home in South Sudan played a that game that seemed impossible for us visitors to figure out. Aside from football (what we call soccer) it seemed to be their favorite game to play.
After trying in vain to figure out how the game worked I decided one evening to join in. Ohwilo, one of the boys from the children’s home, saw that I didn’t know what I was doing and grabbed my hand to try to walk me through it.
I found that they had created a grid by using their feet to make faint marks in the dirt. One team had to stay on the grid lines and try to touch any member of the other team which aimed to make it across the grid and back without getting tapped. If any of the players made it across before their teammates were touched, their team received a point. If somebody on their team got touched first by the children on the grid, the teams switched roles so that the other team got a chance to score points.
Two things stood out to me about this game. First, when I was watching them play I thought everybody was on their own. In the developing world people seem to more heartily embrace games like soccer where the mutual efforts of the community are central to the game. This was certainly true of this game and I chuckled when I figured out how far my individualistic perceptions were from reality.
Second, when I asked the children what the game was called it sounded like they said “Dababa.” For a minute I thought it was a poor pronunciation of “The Robber.” When I asked one of the staff members about the game I learned that it actually was called “Dababa.” The reason for the name is that during three decades of civil war in South Sudan, people referred to tanks as “dababa.”
This made so much sense because that team that was dababa could only run on the lines and the rest of the children could run anywhere within the grid to get past them. A popular children’s game based on the reality of war within their society demonstrates just how important is the peace that has finally come to South Sudan. I pray that the themes of war will fade into history as these precious children experience a new era of peace.