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Children's Games in Madagascar

Children in Madagascar
vente image by gilles vallée from Fotolia.com

Madagascar is an island nation in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa. The country's historical and cultural influences are Indonesian, African and French. French colonial rule, piracy, and unstable internal political and economic systems created a tumultuous environment that played a role in the historical experience of childhood. That context is reflected in the games that Madagascar's children, specifically of the dominate Sakalava group, have played. From a tag game based on the existence of leprosy on the island to colonial military role playing to the strategic game of bao, the games of the children of this tropical country are unique and interesting.


Historically, leprosy has been a feared disease in Madagascar, and childhood games have often reflected social anxieties about the disease. Raboka, a form of tag, is one example. Among the Sakalava people in northwest Madagascar, leprosy is personified by an ogre name Kaka, who steals people away from their communities. In the game of Raboka, the ogre (or "It") has leprosy, and a tap on the back from the afflicted transmits leprosy to the person tagged. In playing the game, the children try to stay together to ward off the tagger.

Military Role Playing

Due to the tumultuous military history of Madagascar, specifically the French colonial and post-colonial periods, Independence Day celebrations are an important aspect of the country's cultural identity. During the modern era, the involvement of children in these activities provided a context for childhood games. In their play, children imitate the young soldiers who served under Queen Ranavalona II in the second half of the 19th Century. This is another example of how childhood games reflect the historical circumstances of the countries in which they are played.


Mancala Marbles
mancala beads image by Alison Bowden from Fotolia.com

Bao (Swahili for board) is a mancala game that originated with the Sakalava people in Madagascar. It was first described by a French traveler in the mid-1600s, and the game spread into Africa from there. It has since become a popular childhood game in many places around the world. The game uses a board with four rows of eight holes, and seeds, stones, beans or shells as the game pieces. The game is played by moving the pieces around the board in the holes. Bao is known as the most complex of the mancala games.

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