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Monday, March 10, 2014

Congotay Children's Game (words, play instructions, and comments)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post presents the words to & performance instructions, for the Caribbean children's game song "Congotay". This post also includes a comparison of this game with other British, Caribbean, American children's games and my comments about the possible early meaning of that game.

This serves as a companion post to http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2014/03/what-one-day-congotay-congote-means.html. That post provides information and comments about the meanings of the proverb "One day one day Congotay (Congote)".

This also serves as a companion post to http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-love-circle-one-day-congote.html The Love Circle - "One Day Congote (Congotay)" sound file & lyrics

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, cultural, and entertainment purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

UPDATE: December 20, 2015
Thanks to Jeremy Peretz for this link to a YouTube video of "Congotay" from Surinam: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrZCFL-uwQ4 (at around 1 hour and fifteen minutes in this video.

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OVERVIEW OF THE WORD "CONGOTAY"
I have found three online uses for the word "Congotay" ("Congo-tay", "Congote", "Congo-te"). Given in the order of the most often found meaning and the least often found meaning online:
1. "Congotay" refers to the "old" proverb (saying) "One day Congotay". Old" here probably refers to the 19th century, but I can't substantiate this guess.

Most online sites associate this proverb with Trinidad & Tobago and with Grenada.

This sub-category also includes the use of "Congotay" in songs such as The Love Circle's record which is showcased in the previous pancocojams post whose link is given above.

2. "Congotay" is the name of a Caribbean* children's game as well as the refrain used in the chant for that game.

*Online and off-line sources that I've found associate this game with Tobago, but it may have also been played in Trinidad and in other Caribbean nations. I used past tense, but this game may still be played in the Caribbean and, by dissemination, elsewhere.

3."Congotay" refers to a Caribbean* prepared food.
*Caribbean here also means "Tobago" but may also mean Trinidad and other West Indian nations.
-snip-
This post focuses on the use of "Congotay" as the title of and the refrain in a specific Caribbean children's game.

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OVERVIEW OF THE CHILDREN'S GAME
"Congotay" is a children's chasing game that begins as a line game.* My guess is that the "One day Congotay" proverb was created before the singing game (which also includes the words "one day".
According to Candice Goucher, author of Congotay! Congotay! A Global History of Caribbean Food, this game was first recorded by J.D. Elder in 1936. A description from J. D. Elder about the performance activity associated with this game is given below.

*Congotay & other line games & dances is the name of a 1996 book by David G Woods (Publisher: Chicago, Ill. GIA Publications, ©1996.). A summary of that book reads:
"A collection of traditional line games and dances for use as a supplemental resource in a comprehensive elementary music curriculum.
-snip-
Note that this book refers to "Congotay" and the other featured games as "traditional". However, although this book is cited numerous times online, I haven’t been able to find a listing online or any of the words to any of its featured games (as they are found in that book). Also "traditional" isn't defined in any of the citations for this book ("Traditional" in which cultures? When were these examples first collected which would make them traditional?)

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TEXT (WORD ONLY) EXAMPLES
Here are two text examples of that game. Unfortunately, to date, I've not been able to find any YouTube sound files or videos of this game.

Here are two examples of this rhyme. My guess is that example #1 is older than example #2:

Example #1:
One day, one day
Congotay!
I meet an ol' lady,
Congotay!
With a box of chickens,
Congotay!
I ask her for one,
Congotay!
She did not give me,
Congotay!
She’s a greedy mama
Congotay!
-as given by Candice Goucher in the chapter "The Enslaved Africans Kitchen" (p. 67) of her 2013 book Congotay! Congotay! A Global History of Caribbean Food books.google.com/books?isbn=0765642174

Here's the preface that Candice Goucher wrote about this game song:
“On the island of Tobago Congotay is a simple tag-and-capture team game in which half the children are chickens and half are attackers. The attackers try to get past the female leader , “the greedy mama:, to capture her chickens for their side. First recorded by J.D. Elder in 1936, the Congotay song and dance is still remembered in various parts of the Caribbean, where the children’s laughter punctuates the lines of the song

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Example #2:
One day, one day
Congotay
I went down to the bay.
Congotay
I meet an ol' lady,
Congotay
With a bag of chickens,
Congotay
I ask her for one,
Congotay
But she wouldn't give me,
Congotay
She's a greedy Mama,
Congotay
So I took it anyway.*

" 'Congotay' is an alternating chant game in which two lines of children stand facing each other with the leader (Mama) of one side protecting the children (chickens) behind her."
- from the 1996 book Down By The River: Afro-Caribbean Rhymes, Games, And Songs For Children
compiled by Grace Hallworth and illustrated by Caroline Binch. (New York: Scholastic Inc, 1996)
-snip-
Given the two acknowledgements/dedications in that book are for two people from Tobago, it appears that these examples in that book come from the Caribbean nation of Tobago.

*I believe that this line is a later addition to the words of this song, but that's just my guess.

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OTHER PLAY INSTRUCTIONS
From http://books.google.com/books?id=nL1aAAAAMAAJ&focus=searchwithinvolume&q=congotay
Jacob D. Elder
American Folklore Society, Jun 1, 1965 - Social Science – 119 [Google books]page 54
"Movements: captured “chickens” are then added to the attackers’ side

The attackers chant “one day one day”, and the “chickens” reply “Congotay”

From time to time the leader of the attackers attempts to get past the greedy “Mama”."
-snip-
In his essay "Recall....Growing Up In Tobago" that is included in the 1997 book Brown Girl In The Ring: An Anthology Of Song Games From the Eastern Caribbean collected & documented by Alan Lomax, J. D. Elder, and Bess Lomax Hawes, J.D. Elders recalls both boys and girls in Tobago playing chasing games. However, the game "Congotay" isn't among the 68 games that are included in that book.

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COMPARISON OF "CONGOTAY" WITH OTHER CHASING GAMES
Several children's chasing games involve children in the role of "chickens" being protected by their mother from attackers. Among those games are "Bull Inna Penn" (original source location: Jamaica), “Chicamy" (original source location: The United Kingdom); and "Chicka Ma Chicka Ma Craney Crow" (African American version of "Chicamy", given as "Hawk and Chickens" in Thomas W. Talley's 1922 book Negro Folk Rhymes: Wise and Otherwise.

Other closely related children's chasing games in the United States are "What's the time, Mr. Wolf", "What time is it Mrs. Witch", "What's The Time, Mr Fox", and "I'm going downtown to smoke my pipe".

To serve as an example, here is a description of "Bull Inna Penn" from Xavier Murphy; "Games played by children in Jamaica" http://www.jamaicans.com/culture/intro/childgames.shtml, Published May 1, 2002, retrieved October 29, 2010:
"[Bull Inna Penn] is a tense, rough and super exciting game, much loved by every child (and adults) in Jamaica.

This game is basically a story of a mother hen and her chicken, a bull in the pen and a hawk.

The mother hen is protecting her brood who are tightly lined up behind her, each little chick clutching tightly onto each other and in step with every move that mother hen does.

The Bull is standing a couple feet in front of mother hen, taunting and jeering, making noise, and trying everything to reach behind Mother Hen to grab one of her precious chicks. The game has a song and little play..."

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MY SPECULATION ABOUT THE EARLY MEANING OF THE CHILDREN'S GAME "CONGOTAY"
My folkloric approach to children’s rhymes, cheers, and game songs starts with the premise that the words to many of those compositions have meanings that may have been forgotten and/or changed over time. With regard to Afro-Caribbean and African American children's games and rhymes, like dance songs and work songs, the words to these compositions may have had coded meanings to shield people from the negative consequences that would occur if their criticism, protest, and/or revolutionary intentions were recognized and understood. These folk songs are ways of “hiding in plain sight” anti-systems criticisms, protests, if not revolutionary intents.

To clarify, a game can have English (United Kingdom) sources, or other Anglo sources and mean something else or some thing more when that game is adapted by Black people in the Caribbean, in the United States, or elsewhere. Also to clarify, if the game "Congotay" is still played now or even when it was played in the mid 1960s, I doubt if the children playing that game gave it that same meaning as the speculative meaning that I've shared here.

My guess is that the early meaning of the word "Congotay" in this game song from Tobago is the same as the meaning of that word in the Caribbean proverb: "You might get away with doing wrong today but one day it will catch up with you." As I presented in http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2014/03/what-one-day-congotay-congote-means.html, the word "Congotay" (Congote) probably originally meant "Congo Day" with "Congo" being a referent for Black people and White people were those who were getting away with doing wrong.

What confused me about the game "Congotay" is that the mama who is protecting her chicks from being captured is presented as “the bad guy” (since the Mama is described as being “greedy”.) Presumably, that means that the attackers are “the good guys”. You would think that those good/bad roles would be reversed.

Since chickens are food that people eat, I wonder if the attackers felt justified for stealing the chickens in order to supplement their meager diet. Perhaps the word “congotay” and its promise that one day justice will prevail alludes to the end of systems that caused people to be in such dire conditions that they felt they had to attempt to steal had to steal from those who had plenty in order to get adequate food.
-snip-
"Stealing chickens" is a theme in several antebellum African American social songs that are included in Thomas W. Talley's Negro Folk Songs: Wise And Otherwise. Click http://www.cocojams.com/content/food-beverages-mentioned-thomas-w-talley%E2%80%99s-negro-folk-rhymes for those examples.

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5 comments:

  1. It's a baffling word. There's evidence that in Jamaica and elsewhere in the Caribbean a food made from powdered plantains was called 'coquina tay' and 'congo tay': but there's also a reference in an article by Orde Coombs in New York Magazine (September 1976) to hearing the 'one day, one day, Congo day' proverb quoted by elders in the Caribbean, with the meaning that white oppressors would face a day of reckoning. There seems no way to connect these two separate meanings.

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  2. There is a possible connection, in that the process of producing plantain-flour requires the green fruit to be peeled, sliced, dried, pounded to fragments and finally sieved. The idea of something being pulverized, reduced?

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  3. Thanks, slam2011 for sharing that information about the congotay prepared meal.

    I didn't find much information about the congotay dish in my Google search.

    Your idea about the possible connection between the meaning of the "one day congotay" proverb and the congotay meal being made by pounding fruit into fragments is intriguing.

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  4. You can see the game "Congotay" played here in this video at 1 hour and 15 minutes in. From Suriname. Diitabiki Village of the Okanisi Maroon people the Tapanahoni (Ndyuka) River, in Suriname, South America.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrZCFL-uwQ4

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  5. Jeremy Peretz, thanks for sharing that link with us. Here's the hyperlink to that video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrZCFL-uwQ4.

    I'll note in an update that video link is in the comments.

    I'm sorry the lighting in that video wasn't clearer. I couldn't tell how the game Congotay was played.

    I believe that children stood in a line holding the waist of the person in front of them. When someone repeatedly sung the word "Congotay", the children moved away in a zig zag motion. I think this was because the children were trying not to get caught by the person singing Congotay.

    ReplyDelete