Don't be quick to dismiss the cheap and crafty games we used to play as children. Some of the simple, low cost and hand engineered games that we played in the townships and rural areas equipped us with great hand-eye co-ordination and innovation.
Think about it, you learned how to construct a ball using newspapers, sand, a drop of water and pantyhose (pantyhose was a luxury material, a plastic bag did the same job). This ball that was light enough to be easily thrown at someone and thick enough for your opponent to feel (and sometimes hear) that the ball had hit them.
There is only one childhood game or rhyme that haunts me even today...
I swore I Love You Baby: (Source unknown)
By so by love to baby
(I swore I love you baby)
To baby to the sa
(You gave that to the sun)
The saa to de yona
(The Sun threw me yonder)
The yona to de meh
(And yonder I became a man)
De meh phude phude
(And then I grew through that)
I used to recite this rhyme while playing a hand-clapping and co-ordination type of game with other children from the neighbourhood. I cannot remember where or when I first heard of this game, but I do know that I took it upon myself to share it with others whenever I visited a place where my peers did not know it. They would learn the words (my version of the words), and in a few minutes we would be laughing and clapping our hearts out! I imagine that this is how many childhood games and songs were transferred from one place to the next.
Lost in translation, maybe?
Roughly two years ago, I came across a post on social media where, supposedly, the English words to the rhyme were provided (similar to the one above). In the comments section, there were joyful recollections of playing this game during school break or in the street, close enough to your house that you could see your mother coming back from work, by the kids who were now adults.
After reading more comments, however, I became worried as to why so many of us had the words so wrong, in such a similar way and across so many parts of the country? I then wondered how many children in South Africa had and still proudly chant the "phude phude" and the subsequent "Themba 1, 2, 3, 4"? How many mothers played this game as children, passed it onto their children and children's children?
I was left feeling offended somehow. I had always found comfort in the thought that the games we played taught and encouraged innovation in us as children. They did not cost much, but they had positive consequences. For example, knowing how much sand and water to mix for that ball was a skill and the hand-eye coordination needed to play tins and uMasgenda (the game where you throw a stone in the air while you simultaneously manoeuvre other stones in and around the circle) made you a champion in your own right. But, with this rhyme and the alleged 'proper' version of the rhyme that surfaced from nowhere, I find it hard to accept and justify this game in my mind.
I attempted to locate this rhyme through search engines and some academic portals in order to find the author or the larger piece from where it was extracted, with no success. My next line of thought was that perhaps others out there (you guys) would know more about it and where it came from and could share this information. I imagine that there are still many young girls and boys out there chanting "phude phude" not knowing what it means, and who might find themselves reading the 'corrections' 20 years from now and feeling how I felt.
Our games may have been cheap but they were indeed thrilling and meaningful. I hope to find the true meaning behind the fun rhyme.