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What are some moral lessons and skills acquired during the use of free/leisure time in West African Traditional Religion




In the West African Traditional context, free or leisure time refers to that time spent engaging in activities unrelated to our regular daily work. It could be just the time spent hanging out with friends, taking part in cultural events, playing traditional sports like wrestling, cat and mouse, war games, jumping competitions, ampe and dance matches, this is just to mention a few. Other pastimes, like playing the flute or writing traditional songs, are ones that people pursue on their own. Individuals can unwind, recuperate, and enjoy life during this spare time.

In West Africa, some of the games may seem like a pastime that is of no value to the people. A game like “Oware” or “Adi” may look senseless but they are traditional games designed by the people to teach useful lessons to the children as they grew. The children are able to imbibe new skills, to develop excellent moral character, build their muscles, develop trust in others and many other skills. In this article, we will look at how the traditional West African games played during their leisure times help to pick useful skills, ideas, information etc. that become helpful to them later in life.


Traditional games promote team work

People can learn team work as they play traditional games by engaging in activities that require cooperation and communication. These activities challenge players to collaborate and communicate with each other in order to achieve a common goal. One of the games that promote team spirit is dancing. There are types of dances that require all the group members to dance in one formation, moving their feet, arms and body in one direction at the same time. This requires practice, cooperation and communication to achieve. The group practice is held on particular days and times. Members of the group need to keep to time and must committed to learn new things at all times. Keeping to time is a valuable lesson to learn. Dancing also helps them to learn coordination skills and ability to keep to rhythms.

Traditional games help to develop honesty

One important skill people learn when they play traditional games is the virtue of honesty. Like many other games in other jurisdictions, traditional games played in West Africa are governed by rules and each player is expected to play by the rules. Players are thought to abide by the rules and ensure fair play at all times. Honest admission of losses and mistakes are embedded in the art of the games. Cheating is discouraged and whoever is caught cheating may be disqualified. The game of “ampe” for example is played by two girls though it can be played with a group of other girls. Two girls on opposite sides jump while clapping their hands, then move one leg forward. Prior to the start, each party chooses what determines a win for her. For example, if one moves the left leg and the other moves the right, it is a win for one party. If, on the other hand one moves a right leg and the other also moves the right leg, then it is a win for the opponent. No player is allowed to player at a slower speed than the other. Defeat must be accepted in good faith.

Teaches the art of reconciliation and peaceful resolution of disputes

The virtue of reconciliation is also thought during the games. On some occasions, misunderstandings occur and may sometimes result in fisticuffs. The ability to make peace immediately or in the not-too-distant future after the games is crucial to harmonious living in the community. Peace overtures are extended to aggrieved parties and the same opponents can find themselves playing again. Some wrestling fights may develop into real fights and opponents need to be separated to avoid injuries.  Some of these fights may later involve other extended family members. Peace needs to be restored between the two families. All types of alternative resolution mechanisms have to be employed. All these encourages and teaches the ability to reconcile with people and make peace with others who wrong a person.

Acquisition of the art of critical thinking

Traditional West African games help to acquire the art of critical thinking by providing players with the opportunity to think strategically and solve problems. For instance, the Ghanaian game of “akomfem" involves strategy, the capacity to predict your opponent's upcoming move and the capability to counter it with a prior action. The game is played on a board shaped like a cross, with four rows of four holes. Players take turns placing stones into the holes. The object of the game is to capture as many of the opponent's stones as possible. Since the players strategic thinking in their attempt to capture their opponent’s stones, they need to develop critical thinking skills. Though this game is designed for enjoyment, the players must be strategic and skillful. The game, therefore, teaches the ability to be strategic in thinking.

Children learn endurance and ability to develop high stamina levels  

Again, West African traditional games can help to build stamina and increase endurance levels in people during their free times. It helps people to stay in shape. There are games like ampe, wrestling and dance competitions, which emphasize physical activity. They assist to develop coordination, muscle strength, and endurance. Furthermore, the flexibility, coordination, and quick thinking needed by these activities could help to improve mental focus. Playing these games socially with friends and family may also foster relationships, reduce stress levels and offer a fun form of exercise. Dancing, for example, if done for a long time, requires stamina, because some are very intense and one must learn to endure in order to keep up. Some of the dance steps are intricate and require a great deal of focus to attain mastery. Dancing, therefore, helps to develop mental endurance, balance and coordination abilities.


Traditional games may teach basic mathematics, analytical and problem-solving skills

West African Traditional games may help in teaching basic mathematics, develop analytical and problem-solving skills. The children learn how to count, to add, to subtract, to multiply, and to divide. It is the fusion of joy, play and learn. The skills may be picked passively too. The games are designed to help learn how to strategize, and solve problems. The children become analytical and able to improve upon their calculating abilities.

The traditional game called Oware, for example, is a game common among the Akans of Ghana though anyone can learn how to play it and very well too. It is a game played by two players. It involves both skills and luck but also involves strategy. The board is carved by experts, who create 12 holes in the wood, six on either side, sometimes with one bigger one on the two edges for each to gather his trophies. They use seeds from a plant Gulandina bonduc. The seed is called bonduc seeds. The ultimate aim of the game is to capture the greater number of seeds from than the other player. In all, 48 bonduc seeds are needed, each player arranges 24 seeds with four each in the six holes on his side of the board.  

The two players decide who starts he game. The starter collects the seeds in one hole and distributes, one each in subsequent holes in a clockwise direction. When he drops the last seed on a group of seeds, he collects those and continues distributing. This continues until he drops his last seed in a hole that has no other seed in it. His opponent now takes his turn. This continues until one player dispossesses his opponent of the greatest number of seeds. That person is then declared the winner. is won by the person who has the most seeds captured.

Traditional games may teach efficiency, thriftiness and cunningness

On moonlight nights, people congregate in their houses, to tell stories. Ananse, a character in Akan folklore, in Ghana, immediately springs to mind. The Yoruba call telling stories "alor," while the Ewes of Ghana call it "gli." The roles played by the characters in the narrative are meant to demonstrate one competence or the other. One is able to develop the capacity to be resourceful, more effective in one’s approach to challenges of life, and being capable of making wise judgments. Some people develop the skill of outwitting others and utilize wit to win fights or disagreements. They learn how to manage their finances in the future by learning how to use their resources effectively. However, the intention is for the good virtues to be inculcated in the children.


In the traditional setting, free time is an integral part of life as such time is used in playing games or enjoying a past time. As people play and enjoy their leisure, they learn lessons of value that can be beneficial to them in the future. The inculcation of positive values in children is embedded in the games they are encouraged to play as young people.

 Also Read:

What are the relationships between West African Traditional Religion and tourism

What are the beliefs associated with Ghanaian traditional marriage?

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