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How the Game is Used

(What’s in a Name?)

People love to hear their names. A person’s name is one of their greatest treasures. Some of us were given our names before we were even born. And most people's name, depending on the type of life style that they live and the legacy that they leave, will be remembered years after their death. In Yan-koloba, each player’s name is chanted in turn, raising players' self-esteem. Traditionally African names have meanings, and those who carry them are expected to live up to them.

The author’s name-Ngomsi- can be divided into two words: “Ngomsi” which means “the word”, or the “speech” or “to talk” and “–si” which means “God”. The name “Ngomsi” means “the word of God”, something my grandmother often reminded me if I was caught not telling all the truth.

The leader calls each player’s name and the entire group praises the individual whose name is called. By hearing their names and the praises that follow, players feel that they belong, and are part of the team. Yan-koloba creates the power of inclusion, inviting each player to be an essential member of the community.

Not only does the leader include players’ names in the chanting, but also he adds “Papa” to male names and “Mama” to female names. For example, a male player named Jacob will be called “Papa Jacob” and Sarah, a female player will be addressed as “Mama Sarah.” “Mama” and “Papa” stands respectively for “Mom” and “Dad.”

The use of "mama" and "papa" plays a number of roles in Yan-koloba:

  1. It helps with the rhythm of the game.
    Adding “Mama” or “Papa” helps with the rhythm of the game as the leader sings the solo composed of four beats. (i.e. “Ma-ma Sa-rah”)

  2. It is used as a sign of respect.
    In the traditional African village, children call every male adult by adding “Papa” before their names. Likewise, every female adult is addressed by adding “Mama” to their name. Children are not the only people to show this respect to villagers; adults, too, call each other the same way. Furthermore, parents show the same respect to children. It is very common to hear parents call their children Papas and Mamas. In most African dialects the words “uncle”, “aunt”, “cousin”, “niece” and “nephews” do not exist; all adults are dads and moms, and all children are either sisters or brothers.

  3. It challenges players to take and demonstrate responsibility.
    The traditional role that defines Dads and Moms is the care they provide to children, nurturing and raising them. By calling each player “Mom” or “Dad”, Yan-koloba shows that each player must take responsibility to nurture other players. Remember that Yan-koloba means “Watch Out or Take Care.”


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