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#SpeakingOut – Warri, our connection to West Africa

by Sasha Mehter
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Warri is one of a number of pit-and-pebble games that has its origins in an ancient African civilization known as Kush. Three thousand years ago traders in this expanding settlement of the Upper Nile used tablets with pits along their length for calculating payments and building materials, so the game is a descendant of an early abacus or counting machine – a computer so to speak!

Traditional adult games from Africa, and certainly the pit-and-pebble group of games are never based on chance, rather they are based on the strategic positioning of the counters. There is no pulling of cards or throwing of dice . . . a win relies on the choices the players make when making their moves. While it is designated a “board” game, it requires no special equipment that nature doesn’t provide freely – i.e. 12 pits that could be dug in the ground, or marked out on a sheet, and 48 undifferentiated pebbles all having the same value. 

Here then, almost unnoticed in the region we have a piece of African culture that can be used effectively, not only for entertainment but also to serve to develop structured thinking and strategic choices. Its survival in Barbados through 400 years of prohibition during the colonial era, is evidence of its powerful ingenuity, with its rules and terminology kept intact from generation to generation. It is a foundation for Caribbean people to connect with a genuine West African contribution to the treasury of human culture. Warri is in fact, probably among Barbados’ most authentic anthropological links with the Akan people of Ghana since we play by the same rules that a tribesman in Kumasi plays. So, it is far above a trifling imported fashionable pastime. We should not surrender it now.

Lee Farnum-Badley 

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