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Barbados Warri: the Bajan way - W Lee Farum-Badley

Barbados Warri is the island’s oldest surviving game. It is a member of a great family of pit-and-pebble strategy games that originated in the Sudan over 3600 years ago when accountants and engineers of the ancient Kush Civilization of the Upper Nile (today’s Sudan) used counters on a tablet with depressions to carry out mathematical calculations. As such, Warri could possibly be called a descendant of the first "computer game". Two variants of the game came across the Atlantic in the 17th Century with the introduction of African peoples in the Caribbean to work as slaves in the colony’s tobacco and sugar plantations. The two games were kept alive over the years entirely by word-of-mouth or what is known as the oral tradition, but games with such formidable technical integrity as Warri are for obvious reasons handed down from generation to generation of players very accurately, and so we are able to use these two to conclude that Barbados’ anthropological heritage and is rooted strongly in Asante and Yoruba. A Yoruban version of the game, Ayo Ayo, became known as "Round-and-Round Warri" in Barbados, while the more popular Asante version, Oware, has become established here as Barbados Warri.

Because the rules of both games have been preserved so faithfully over the ages, they are counted among the island’s finest cultural retentions. The name Warri comes from an Ijo dialect word meaning "houses".

Pit and pebble games are probably the most arithmetical of all games, but Warri can be introduced purely as a game of chance to very young children, and even at this level, it has subtle educational value in encouraging the child to count. He or she progressively also learns the concept of one-to-one correspondence as he drops each one seed into each of a sequence of consecutive holes. Soon he learns simple sums in order to evaluate options and keep score.

warrisep.gif (845 bytes) As he advances in the discovery of the game the young player will begin to see the strategic importance of planning and the discipline involved in the actual implementation of long-term   strategies appreciating the importance of foresight, correct timing and an awareness of the principle of cause and effect. In fact, the game has probably played an important role in shaping the personality of the communities that used it for entertainment. Not a game of chance in any way, Warri is a perfect metaphor for life. Certainly, some of the sharp evaluation skills for which older Barbadians are known can be attributed to their use of childhood game-playing competencies as effective reference to analyze the situation.

Together with other slave folklore, Warri was treated with contempt by the European Plantocracy, and was driven underground. Its resilience as a source of entertainment must be attributed to its ingenuity. The typical warri board in the Eastern Caribbean, is fashioned roughly out of a discarded piece of two-by-four. Every now and again someone will report that they have found the characteristic six pairs of receptacles carved out of a half buried stone, or on a barely accessible cliff-side ledge, evidence that players would have huddle there for secret contests. Because it was repressed so thoroughly on this side of the Atlantic, artisans would never waste much time fashioning beautifully carved warri boards. It wasn’t practical after all, to own an elaborately decorated board when you could expect that it would be ordered burnt or destroyed as soon as it was discovered. The warri board craftsman in Barbados held one specification uppermost: it had to be a piece of wood that could ‘dash-way easy’. In contrast, ornately carved gameboards from continental Africa suggest that the game was played at all levels of the various societies. The Asante Kings were known for their   prowess at the game.

warrisep.gif (845 bytes) It is said that these warrior kings would play Oware on golden boards with their generals before entering into battle to check whether there was sufficient mental sharpness in the ranks to carry the day. No matter what side of the Atlantic, however, there is a remarkable consistency in preference for a certain type of seed for use in the game. The dried pod of the thorny Guiliandra shrub Ceasalpinia bonduc throws out a handful of greenish/grey seeds known in Barbados as "Horse Nickars". These are the choice of serious Warri players in Ghana just as they are in Barbados. It may be speculated that the botanical species came to be established in the Caribbean as a result of the game’s migration. Modern game packages in Barbados use beautiful red seeds from the Red Sandalwoodtree Adenanthera pavonina L

Once a popular game on the plantations and among stevedores and fishermen, the best Warri exponents in the island today are still found in districts connected with those trades. Names like Hood, Ben-Ben and "Lord Jesus" are legendary. They can be seen in action after four o’clock every day except Sunday at Mrs Alleyne’s Shop on the Round-the-Town Road just east of Speightstown. The game is conspicuously absent from the Greater Antilles and from the more mountainous islands in which the plantation system was not established as early. Sugar Island Warri as it is sometimes called or simply - The Game of Houses, is therefore a perfect pastime or gift idea for persons who like games of strategy and are interested in exploring the unique cultural history of Barbados. The game is guaranteed to give you many hours of family enjoyment and simultaneously help young players develop the intuitive, social and emotional abilities that are critical for problem-solving. . . . the Bajan way!


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