There’s a Swahili saying that says ‘mcheza kwao hutunzwa’, loosely meaning he who plays at home is nurtured. Ironically, when it comes to those who are playing indigenous African games in Tanzania and much of the continent, the nurturing element has been missing for decades.
“At the moment Africans have a poor record at the Olympics. The reason is partly because the games are alien to most Africans. However, adopting African sports at the Olympic Games will give them global recognition,” an excerpt from an article by Kelvin Gitari proposing which indigenous African games mostly from West Africa like Capoeira, should make it to the Olympics said.
“Not every child is an athlete, but the experience of play for children is vital. They learn through it, make friends. That is what sports did for me, I learned discipline, and it made me feel like I belonged.” Lucy Protas Michael says as she narrates how she was drawn playing when she was growing up.
She recalls her primary school days playing with her friends at Yaeda Ampa Primary School in Manyara, Tanzania. Lucy holds an honorary B.Ed in Physical Education and Sports Science with a PhD. in Sports Management.
She is the ambassador of global goals world cup East Africa and is the founder of an NGO, Sports for Change Tanzania-SPFCTZ. In 2017/2018, her organisation ran a sports bonanza in Dar es Salaam for ‘Rede’ game, a local sport, which they look forward to hosting it again this year.
“I wanted women to engage in a sport that they liked and believed in...When we were growing up, we loved playing ‘rede’, not because we were pushed to it but because we liked it. It was even seen as the fundamental for allowing a child to walk, so why aren’t we doing it nowadays? We push our kids to play soccer, tennis and basketball, but then we forget these native games.” Lucy says.
The bonanza saw more than 100 people participate at the Don Bosco grounds in Dar es Salaam. This year they are planning to host it in the city suburbs to attract a more robust crowd. It is true that in Dar es Salaam, the biggest city in Tanzania, the number of kids exposed to these games is dwindling.
With the subliminal message of them being ‘inferior games’ perpetuated as schools, particularly private schools where the affluent take their kids and don’t formalise these games. In the pan African community, this mindset is quickly seen as stemming from our colonial and enslaved past.
Touching base with Prof Nampombe Saurombe who is currently at the Department of Information Science, College of Human Sciences at the University of South Africa (UNISA) in Pretoria, herself an East African native, she shared how she’s recently been involved with research focusing on undocumented practices of people in African communities, one of the aspects being sports.
“The decolonization drive has been to make known that which was portrayed as inferior in the past. Western games have become more prominent in our African societies rather than our own traditional games. Many games were used by communities not only as a source of fun, but for unification and teaching life lessons. They carried important messages. It is worrying that the knowledge is slowly perishing and that these games might become extinct,” she said, adding that it is very important that these games are known and they actually don’t disappear, saying that they should gain more prominence as Africa continues with decolonisation and Pan African efforts.
There is hope as the government in Tanzania as of last year December made significant changes in its association for indigenous sports in Tanzania-Chamijata. This follows the request made by the late president Dr John Magufuli to the Ministry of Information, Arts Sports and Culture in following CCM’s election manifesto of 2005- 2010.
“After the meeting on the 3rd of June 2020, we were told to work on our constitution, so we did. And in December Chamijata’s constitution was ratified by the National Sports Council and its stakeholders under the Ministry of Sports...” Mr John J. Nguchiro, the current Secretary General of Chamijata, saying the new directive of the association is revamping indigenous sports in the country.
Chamijata has so far developed the rules and regulations of eight indigenous sports to meet international standards, which include: - Swahili Bao, Traditional Wrestling, Kirumbizi, Mdako, Grating Coconuts, Weaving Ukili and Tug of war. Others include archery using traditional bows and arrows from East Africa, where in this sport Tanzania has participated in international tournaments in 2008 and 2010.
Other indigenous sports which they are working to develop and ratify also include Nage, Rede and target shoots with ‘manati’, a traditional catapult. Mr Nguchiro further says that Chamijata’s mandate is to guide the ministry in ensuring these sports are incorporated in the school syllabus. However, he says that the association faces many challenges, including funding as well as recruiting members to take up leadership positions in its regional offices.
“Our annual work plan is not going in accordance to our plan because we need more members. Here in Dar es Salaam and Pwani region it’s a bit easy. I have gone to meet with the Administrative Secretary of Pwani, and he took me to the Education Officer dealing with sports, who then took me to the Sports Officer. They have understood and they have the request forms to recruit committee leaders for Chamijata in Pwani,” he says In their work plan this year, Chamijata plans to host games in October when the nation remembers its founding president, Julius Kambarage Nyerere in Dodoma.
Athletes interested to play can submit their request at the offices through their clubs or individually. He said the late president Nyerere was an avid player of the Swahili Bao, and Chamijata looks forward to invite his widow, mama Maria Nyerere and former President Hassan Mwinyi to the games this October.
Plans of which he says won’t succeed if concrete support isn’t poured into the association and its mandates. Lucy Protas reminded me that sport is a billion-dollar industry, with opportunities ranging from production of its tools, establishing and marketing of its rules and regulations to training of its mentors and the recruiting of its athletes.
The late president Julius Nyerere said “A country without its culture is a nation without direction, culture is the nation’s heart and mirror.