Friday, November 10, 2017

African Children's Counting Out Rhymes: "Tumbum Tumbum", "Piki Piki Mabalane" & "Olke Bolie"

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post provides excerpts from online discussion threads and articles about one Nigerian and two South African children's counting out or choosing it rhymes.

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

These comments were written on the YouTube discussion thread for Nigerian Afropop (Afrobeats) singer Yemi Alade's hit song "Tumbum" in response to questions about the meaning of the word "tumbum". I've assigned numbers to these comments for referencing purposes only.


1. "It's something kids sing to make random picks when asked to make a choice or during a game."...
-Eva Odum (2016)

2. "yes, it is something like this "tumbum tumbum base lembe sisi alaba kpom. alaba laba kai kai sisi bum bum" ( or tom tom, no idea what we said there, lol). you say that while going from one thing to the other. whichever your finger land on when the saying ends, that's the one you pick.
-abbyaou1 (2016)

3. ..."Tumbum Tumbum is game we played as kids growing up. When we had to choose usually tumbum tumbum is the way out. Usually the outcome decision is final."
-Anthony Kakie (2016)

4. ..."Tumbum tubum, is an Igbo word meaning 'this or that'....
- Joseph Eke (2016)
5. ..."Tumbum, Tumbum".... its game of random choice Igbo kids play at the village square when they are in a dilemma and they have to make a choice between two similar options."
-THE VICTOR (2016)

6. superAweber
"Ah, so it's the same as "eenie meenie minie moe, catch a goblin by his toe, if he squeals let him go, eenie meenie minie moe"."

7. Nonhlanhla Mkwanazi

"superAweber yes..100% correct."

The only direct online reference that I've found thus far to the South African [Zulu ?] counting out rhyme "Pika Pika Mabalane" is this comment from the discussion thread for Yemi Alade's Afropop (Afrobeats) song "Tumbum" [link given above]
"lol, we have a similar nonesensical game in south africa. It goes: "Piki piki mabelane, sala sala gentel mane, abili bock abili bili bock, ince ince ince...". Carries on after that but I can't really remember the whole thing :D"
-Nonhlanhla Mkwanazi (2016)



Realjoeman Maxy, Published on May 10, 2013
This YouTube example features a man singing the lead and children singing the responses. The example begins with a photo collage and switches to a sound file. Here's a comment from this example's discussion thread:
Xolela Theme (2015)
"it brings back my childhood i love this song"

Here's a link to a very brief (.22) South African Hip Hop YouTube clip entitled "Piki Piki Mabelane"
by Babywyn.

The summary for this 2015 video indicates that "Babywyn is an artist that hails from the Republic of South Africa,The beautiful queens in the video are called Mat Models which emanate from the beautiful Botswana."
The link for the full video is

The title for the full video is shortened to "Mabalane". Given the meaning of the phrase "piki piki mabalane" my guess is that the subject of this Hip Hop track is about which beautiful women the rapper will choose. song about which beautiful women he should choose


Excerpt from


Olke bolke, êrie tjêrie tjorts! [Afrikaans to English translation, retrieved on November 10, 2017]
"In a lot of languages and different communities one will find it: the rhymes that children rhythmically call children during their group games. Then the recipient will show in his or her group with each successive strongly stressed word or syllable in the rhymes with the index finger or otherwise to another child in his or her group.

One after the other child is "counted" on the row and this usually happens in the round. The child who turns out when the very last word or brabbelword is said in the rhyme is then "out" or "rotten" or

But with an outline rhyme, a business between just two people can also be added instead of a coin throw.


One of the best-known title rhymes in children in African-speaking communities is "Olke bolke", although it is almost impossible to read Afrikaans:

Olke bolie riebiekie stolke (or: Olke bolke Riebeeck stolke)
Olke bolke knor (of: Olke bolke knol)
Ir very cheeky chick
Yeah, yeah!

Where does this brawl rhyme come from? Could it be that Bolke contributed the bear and his sister, Olke characters in a Dutch children's book series, designed by AD Hildebrand in 1935, to the origin of this outreach rhyme? It may be, but how could one ever determine? In any case, one would tend to think that the "Olke Bolke" rhyme should be much older than that."...

I learned about the phrase "olke bolke" from this response to the question about "Traditional South African games and activities for kids?"

response posted by #3 [screen name] ( 2007)
"Do you remember "wolf, wolf, hoe laat is dit?!" ?
Its like playing jagertjie with a group of children, one in the group plays the wolf, then the others sing and ask : wolf wolf, what is the time? then the wolf can say 8o'clock....then the children can repeat the question over and over until the wolf say: "Etens tyd!" and chases every one and the child to be caught for "lunch" is the next one to play the wolf. very exciting cause you never now when the wolf decides to go hunting!


It could also be nice to use something like "Olke bolke....." to place the kids into teams if the game you play has teams. How about a sport like jukskei..that very South-African"...

Another example of "olke bolke" is found at the end of this online article about South African children's games:


[translated from Afrikaans to English

"The top 15 kids games! Can you remember everybody?
by Annemie Lombard on 17 February 2015"


"Olke bolie riebiekie stolke, olke bolke knor. Ir very cheeky cheeky cheery, cheeky cheers ..."

Please add to this compilation of African counting out or choosing it rhymes or share your memories of these examples.

Don't forget to add demographic information such as when you chanted these rhymes or heard them chanted (for instance, 1980s, 1990s), where you heard these rhymes (which country), and which language the rhyme is in. Thanks!

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Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. FYI, there's a cool song called Piki Piki by Manthe Ribane and Okzharp that uses the South African counting rhyme starting with "piki piki" mentioned in this thread. The thread helped me to understand what the lyrics mean (well, not literally, only that it is a counting rhyme) so thanks for that. If you or anybody else have a clue what the words mean (if anything) and which language it is please share that information.

  2. Thanks for your comment alerting me to that song, jenerikku.

    Here's a link to that video: OKzharp & Manthe Ribane - Piki Piki Excerpt (2016)
    published by hyperdubrecords on Sep 22, 2016

    I don't know the language used in this song. Hopefully, someone will share that information here (since viewer comments for that video are disabled).

    Btw, the bald headed female dancer in that video is stunning!