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Childhood games: The games we played as children



Most desirable toy was a bicycle wheel frame that was no longer in use. The wheel had a grove around it. We cut a small tree branch which we placed on the grove and rolled, controlled the wheel as we ran as fast as possible so that the wheel did not fall. We loved the bicycles. Those who had them were objects of envy: men`s and ladies’ bicycles were different.

Men’s bicycle had a handlebar with a steel horizontal frame used to carry people and any luggage but best of all to carry me anywhere my father went. To have the privilege of washing the bicycle was our greatest joy. While washing it, we tried to learn how to ride but we could not because it was locked. We were much too small anyway to seat on the bicycle seat to learn. We learned how to ride “monkey style”, holding the handlebar of the bicycle we learned how to ride it beneath the horizontal bar, we called it monkey riding.


The ladies’ bike did not have the horizontal frame running from the handlebar to the seat. The ladies` bike had a frame rolling from the centre of the hand bar to the mechanism holding the chain and back wheel of the bicycles. So ladies did not have to throw their legs as men did like horse jockeys over the seat. They demurely put their legs to the other side on the pedal and with a small push were on the way. Very few women had bicycles. Moreover, without the bar from the handle to the seat the lady`s bike could not carry any luggage. However, some ladies bicycles had a flat metal seat on top of the rear wheel where they may carry a basket, etc sometimes they carried a child but that did not seem safe.

Rodge and Raleigh were the most popular bicycles. Bicycle repair shops and bicycle rental outlets were a constant feature in our lives. People rented bicycles to go out or carry out errands. We never heard that the bicycles was stolen. In Port Harcourt at the mid-town Gardens or what we called “fields” were several bicycle rental stores.
When I was in China in the 80s I saw the 20 lane highway in the morning jammed packed and full of bicycle riders, all in white shirts and black trousers going to work. An unbelievable sight. In Beijing (or Pekin as we called it then) every space on top of the roof or in front of the apartment buildings you see Chinese going through their Exercises, tai chi – A kind of slow gymnastics ballet exercise. (The Little Red Book and these communal exercises greatly contributed to Chinese identity and nationalism.)

We did not have toys or pets but we found plenty to play with as children. We played KOSO (KOTO). We caught little snails (the African snail is big brown and funnel-shaped). There are smaller varieties of the snail which we sought. We scooped out the meat (not edible) and the shell had groves around it. We filed down the open trumpet-like head until the shell was V-shaped. We then placed this rudimentary sculpture between the thumb and forefinger and spun the snail on the ground.


My opponent would do the same: the owner of the snail that spun the longest was the winner. A variation of this game was to use the wooden thread spindle of the sewing machine. Threads were wound around a two level headed beveled wooden spindle. The wooden thread spindle had a hole in the middle through which the thread was placed on the sewing machine, usually Singer sewing machine. The thread went through from the thread holder to the needle so when my mother turned the sewing machine, the stitching took place. When all the thread had been used there remained the wooden thread holder with a long stem and two funnel-like heads.

It is this empty wooden spindle that we would cut into two, find a tight-fitting wooden stick we push through the hole in the middle of the thread base. Afterward, we had cut the stem of the base in two. We would sharpen the wooden stick coming out of the spindle. We eventually had two Kosos (Koto) that we can spin. Again the longer the spin lasted determines the winner but finding the wooden thread holder was not easy, so we made do with the small snails which we caught just before the onset of the rainy season. Enugu is a rocky place and there were plenty of millipedes, (if you touched a millipede it wound itself into an immobile ring), centipedes were fast and difficult to catch. The environment was teaming with life. There was the majestic green praying mantis, the wall gecko waiting for some helpless insect to cross their paths. Then again before the rainy season hundreds of thousands of flying succulent ants, the Ibos call Aku, the French delicacy which we eat with roast corn. The night was filled with the mating calls of frogs and toads.

We collected some dangerous insects like the tarantula spiders and scorpions which we kept in cigarette tins with holes for air on the cover. We liked to watch the scorpions fight, having been scooped up in a cigarette tin and probably hungry, (although we tried to feed them with nuts, berries, and fruit, carefully without getting a sting) when you opened the two tins extremely furious scorpions, their tail high in the air as they viciously attacked each other. We knew the male and the female scorpions and once again, I would ask you to guess which was most ferocious. We normally take the scorpions soon after they are hatched and feed them with yam, cassava until fully grown.


5)Some of us kept doves, pigeons which we at first put in cages and feed with seeds we could easily get from the bush or buy from the market. We kept the pigeon for a while in cages and got very excited when the male pigeon begins to sing his love songs and dances around the female. Since it was certain that the pigeons would be fed they flew off during the day but came back for dinner and dutifully went into the cages that we had made at woodwork classes with bamboo. Soon the cages were too small, the pigeons took residence in the eaves and ceiling of the house. We noticed that the birds began to build a nest preparing to lay eggs.

The most exciting birds we kept were canaries which had a high price if your canary can sing better than those of your friends. There was a canary seed, a brown/yellow cereal which I do not know of any other use but to feed canaries. It was not easy to own a canary. It was possible to catch a canary by setting a Boy Scout thread loop trap among the tassles of the ear of corn disguised as long beard at the ear of corn on the farm. The theory was that the canary would come to forage for the corn. The hope is that when the canary is busy chasing its food, one of its feet will fall into the Boy Scout knot embedded at its perch. The more the canary moved, the tighter the knot. By the time it has had its fill, he is trapped by the knot at which time the canary is singing like a bird. This is your notification to go catch your prey. But you are not the only one: the farmer may be around and he hates interlopers messing around on his farm. Other birds of prey are quick to respond to the canary signal of distress. You, the canary hunter, better move fast or you would be the hunted in no time at all.

To be continued tomorrow.


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