Kalongolongo is a very complicated word when you say it to the ‘born towns.’ It is another name for ‘cha-baba na cha-mama,’ obviously ‘for-father and for-mother.’ This game was played by children as a play to symbolize the family set-up. I happen to be among the selected few that played this game. To my ‘born-town’ readers, I understand you might not have played this game. How could you? You spent your childhood watching cartoons with the strict supervision of the house help, whom you called ‘Aunty’.
The only time you got out of the house was when going to church in which case you had your parents hold your hand. At least you had a few friends from Sunday school or in nursery school (kindergarten). To my international readers, it’s at this time when I ask you to pay attention to one of the Kenyan games children used to play. No we didn’t go hunting and gathering.
Kalongolongo was a that game that reflected what was happening at home. The setting was mostly in a banana plantation or in the house of one of your friends. There were several characters. There was the father, mother, children, watchman, dog, thief, priest, teacher and neighbours. The teacher lived in school and his/her work was to teach the children at school.
The father was the head of the family. His duty was to go to his job and come with money. The amount of money he got was determined by him using the number of mango leaves. His work was to build the house that the family lived and protect the house from the thief if the watchman failed.
The mother was given the role of cooking and making sure that the house was clean. She also ensured that the children were fed and were asleep. The meals were ugali (mud) and sukumawiki (oxalis).
The thief’s work was to steal what was in the house and beat the family. Funny enough the thief announced when he arrived to steal.
The watchman was given a role of protecting the family with the help of a boy who acted as the dog.
This game ended up exposing the family secrets. The naughtiest and most confident demanded to act as the father and choose his favourite girl as his wife. The rest were to choose the roles they wanted to play with the exemption of the watchman and the dog. The biggest acted mostly as the watchman and the ‘ugly’ one was the dog.
The father determined what time of the day it was. Ironically the day was too short but the night longer. Everyone was to go and sleep in their designated houses and rooms leaving the house for the father and mother. The father was always right and the mother wouldn’t disagree. He would punish the children when they misbehaved.
That’s why I’m dedicating this article to all the ladies that played Kalongolongo when they were children. Especially the ones that played the role of the mother.
Written by Brian Muguro