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CULTURAL GAMES RECEIVE MUCH-NEEDED REVIVAL

April 12, 2004 — For family fun on an Easter Sunday afternoon, it's hard to beat the Traditional Games and Toddlers Derby put on by the V.I. Carnival Committee. The games got a late afternoon start with more families towing children, from toddlers to teen-agers, through the gates at Lionel Roberts Stadium as the cool of the evening set in.
It's been about six years since the committee members began introducing a new generation of Virgin Islanders to the games they used to play in the '40s and '50s when they were young. Until two years ago, there were lengthy demonstrations of how to play with spinning tops, jacks and marbles. Somehow, this year, that didn't seem to be the case.
One adult demonstrator at the foot of the stadium stage beamed as he snapped the string on a blue spinning top, which bore into the dirt and hovered in its orbit until the man slung the string on either side, and with a second snap, launched the still-spinning top into the air, where he caught it in his hand. A young girl looked on in admiration.
Up on the stage, organizer Kenneth Christopher coaxed a group of small children into two orderly lines behind a pair of two-wheel barrows. No, not wheelbarrows. There's no bucket and nothing to haul around. These wheel barrows are T-shaped frames with wheels attached and a set of strings rigged to the frame and the handle.
"You're going to steer it!" Christopher said.
It's not as easy as it looks. One of the children takes off behind the thingamabob, which starts looping off to the left and the right without the proper steering. Before you know it, the cart's behind the horse, so to speak.
So, as Christopher said, you have to remember to steer.
Eight-year-old Simon Shose didn't mind. Asked what he thought of the old-fashioned toy, he said it was "fun" but admitted it was hard to remember to walk, not run, and steer to keep the wheel barrow in front of him.
The kiddies taking part in more than a dozen heats in the 2004 Toddlers Derby had their own challenges with steering. In race No. 3, the favorite took off at the starting line, but inches from victory decided to take a sharp right, as his amazed parents looked on.
The parents went running after their contestant, who still had a chance to win, which seemed to prompt a game of tag: on the carpet, off the carpet, back to the starting line, and down the stretch again.
Twenty-three-month-old TeWann Canton, taking a more direct approach, ignored the confusion and crossed the finish line ahead of the competition. His mother, Lina Richardson, waved a drumstick belonging to TeWann's father and a cell phone to coax him on to victory.
Eudora Kean High School teacher Glenn "Kwabena" Davis brought his entire V.I. history class for a lesson in top spinning. Davis' wooden top had six sides and a peg at the top, set in motion with a twist of the fingers on a tabletop. Competitors wager glass marbles and win or lose according to the message written on the side of the top that lands face up.
The game, Davis explained, is called "tee to tum."
"I teach the cultural heritage class at Kean High School, so I think it's important for the kids to learn the cultural games of the Virgin Islands," he said.
Slightly older than teen-agers, radio personality Jo Jo Lindquist and Amazia Francis tried their hand at jacks.
"I got the skills to pay the bills!" Jo Jo said as she cast a handful of five-pointed jacks across a tabletop. Like a pool player, she studied the pattern then bounced a little red ball, snatching up jacks before the ball could hit the table.
Onesie's … twosies … threesies … the jacks all disappeared with each bounce of the ball. Four games in a row without a miss.
"I'm coming for you now, Amazia," she said. Her friend looked on, waiting for a miss and her turn.
Derek Gumbs said he spent some time teaching third grade in the South Pacific, where it was the boys who played jacks. The girls played marbles, he said as he watched a group of boys trying to pick off a cluster of glass marbles by knocking them out of a circle.
"You can't get the boys and the girls to play together because that was not their culture," he said.
When Gumbs was a boy in Savan, he played most of the traditional games, which he originally learned by watching others play them on Sunday nights. According to Gumbs, he owned a two-wheel barrow with a steering stick, and he played marbles and jacks.
However, while casting a glance over at the hotshot with the spinning top, Gumbs was asked if he could fling a top in the air with a string and catch it in his hand.
"I don't know," he said.

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