Monday, November 13, 2017

Ring Play (Circle Game) Performances OF "Brown Girl In The Ring"

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post presents a brief excerpt about the ring game (circle game) "Brown Girl In The Ring: from the 1997 book Brown Girl In The Ring: An Anthology Of Song Games from the Eastern Caribbean, editors Alan Lomax, J.D. Elders, and Bess Lomax Hawes.

This post also showcases examples of ring game (circle game) performances of the Caribbean singing game "Brown Girl In The Ring".

Given the relative high familiarity with "Brown Girl In The Ring" in the Caribbean, the United States, and elsewhere, it's surprising that there are so few YouTube videos of circle game performances of this song.

In addition to three circle game videos of "Brown Girl In The Ring", this post also includes a video of this singing game being performed by the bride and groom and their guests at a Guyanese wedding reception. This post also includes a Boney M video of "Brown Girl In The Ring" because that video includes clips of Caribbean school girls.

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 featured in these videos and thanks to all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks also to the publishers of these videos on YouTube.
Click for a 2017 pancocojams post entitled "Is The Caribbean Game Song "Brown Girl In The Ring" Racist? (information, videos, comments, & lyrics)"

Also, click for a 2012 pancocojams post entitled "Boney M - Brown Girl In The Ring (Video, Lyrics, & Comments)".


From the 1997 book Brown Girl In The Ring: An Anthology Of Song Games from the Eastern Caribbean, editors Alan Lomax, J.D. Elders, and Bess Lomax Hawes

"Brown Girl In The Ring"
[page] 7

Players form a ring of clappers and singers facing the center, where a sing child dances about during the first verse. During the second, she "makes her motion", which may consist of "winding" or any other dance step she elects. During the third verse she stands in front of a child in the ring and the two hug or dance together. The "partner" becomes the "brown girl" for the next run through of the game, which continues till every child has had a turn at the center role.

Anguillan children play the game approximately the same way but to a variant of the Trinidadian tune and with more direction from the lead singer. "Crossing the ocean" means dancing back and forth across the ring; "work up your calabash" means to move belly and pelvis. In St Kitts, children sing "Now make up your cat backs,", and the dancer arches her back like a cat. Other dance steps may be called for as desired.


[page] 8
Whenever and however played, this song game epitomizes the classic and essential form of Caribbean ring play, in which a single dancers occupies the center of the circle, "shows her [or his] motion, and then selects a partner and who hares the dance briefly and ultimately takes over the central role. Such dances serve in part as preparation for later courtship experiences; indeed, Caribbean parents encourage their children to participate in such games, to "hug and kiss" their partners and to demonstrate their physical skills in the art of "winding" a sinuous movement of the trunk, an act which might well be disapproved of if the child were not dancing. This dance became a theater in which children can rehearse adult behavior in a socially approved situation."
-end of quote-
Pancocojams Editor's Notes:

Anguilla, Trinidad, and St. Kitts are names of three Caribbean nations.

Since at least the 1960s, in the United States almost all non-competitive singing games that are performed in a circle with or without any person in the middle have been relegated to toddlers and preschoolers. In my direct experiences with African American children, these types of singing games are rarely performed independently (without school teachers and other adult direction and supervision). The exceptions to that rule (again, in my direct experiences) are "Ring Around The Rosey" (which is still independently performed by children up to and including pre-school girls and boys, i.e. up to and including children age 5years old) and "Going To Kentucky" (which may still be independently performed by elementary school age girls ages 5 to around 9 years old.

I have observed African American children play singing games in my role as an African American parent, in my role as a founder/leader of the after school cultural "Game song" group that I called "Alafia Children's Ensemble", in my role as a special performer (mostly for African American children in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area), and in my role as a substitute elementary school teacher in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The last time I observed this game independently performed by girls was in 2012 when I was a substitute teacher. On two occasions, two different groups of girls ages around 5-9 years old independently decided to play the circle game "Going To Kentucky" during their outdoor school lunch recesses.

My conclusions regarding the ages and genders of African American children, pre-teens, or teens play those games without adult direction are playing singing games are particularly formed from my observations and interactions in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from the 1960 to date. I don't know whether these conclusions also apply to non-African Americans. However, from watching YouTube videos of American children performing singing games, it appears that school teachers are teaching these games to children who didn't know them before. Almost all of the students in these YouTube videos of singing game performances appear to be White.

These conclusions regarding the ages of children who play non-competitive singing games appear to be substantiated by YouTube videos of singing games performances. This "singing game" category doesn't include non-competitive or lightly competitive hand clap games or competitive singing games in which the person slaps (lightly claps) the hand of the people standing on either side of her or him. Examples of non-competitive hand clapping games include "Down Down Baby", "I Don't Want To Go To Mexico", and "Tweeleelee". Examples of competitive singing games include "Down By The Banks Of The Hanky Panky", "Stella Ella Ola", and "Little Sally Walker (was walking down the street)".

I don't recall as a child playing any singing games that involved the center person choosing a partner who dances with her or him and then becomes the next center person. What I have experienced and later observed as a teen an as an adult is that there is only one center person in circle games, and the new center person is randomly chosen by the center person closing her eyes, extending her hand in a pointing gesture, and spinning around. The person who is pointed to at the end of the song becomes the new center person. That person quickly moves to the center, the former center person rejoins the circle, and the singing game immediately begins from the beginning.

For more comments about choosing the center person in singing games, click for a post on my cocojams2 blog entitled "Switching Places Ring Games (Part 1-Description & Other Comments).

In the video presented as Example #2 below, notice the school girls who are performing this game leaning back and doing a Matrix movie-like move around 1:42 in this video. This may an example of the "make up your cat backs" movement that is referred to above. That leaning back movement is also regularly performed by drum majors in African American university marching bands, and that might have been the inspiration for the similar movement that was performed in the American movie Matrix.

These videos are presented in chronological order based on their publishing date with the oldest dated video given first.

Example #1:"Brown Girl In The Ring: Bahamian Expats In Los Angeles"

The Coconut Channel, Uploaded on Jul 24, 2008

At the July 2008 picnic celebration in Los Angeles' Griffith Park of the Bahamas' 35th anniversary of independence from England, a group of exuberant adults burst into the ring games of their childhood.
This video documents performances of various "ring plays" (circle game songs) that people from the Bahamas living in the United States played. "Brow Girl In The Ring" begins at 5:19 and continues to the end of that video.

I wrote a comment asking about the name of the game that was played before "Brown Girl In The Ring" and the words to the second and third verses of that song. Here are the responses to my question:

from dakingofhearts91 (2012)
"The Game played before brown girl in the ring was red rover. The lyrics to the other song goes like this "blue hill water dry no where to wash my clothes, I remember that saturday night we had fried fish and johnny cake. Man take one to satisfy woman take two she make a moo (move)"

After thanking "dakingofheart" I asked if that version that the people in the video sang was traditional. Here is her response to that question:

Dannie (2012)
"Brown girl in the ring was not played properly. In Blue hill water dry, they had "boil" fish and johnny cake."Fried fish and johnny cake is not a Bahamian dish.Are any of them actually Bahamians.Once the get all the lyrics and someone to teach them the melodies, they'll be straight.
"They'll be straight" = They'll sing the song right. (the right way).

Example #2: Boney M. - Brown Girl in the Ring (remix 1993; originally recorded in 1978)

FFFclub, Published on Apr 11, 2010
Here are several comments from this video's discussion thread. (Numbers are assigned for referencing purposes only.)

1. taipasboy (2012)
"Where are they from?"
"They" refers to the members of the "Boney M" singing group.

2. Wilmerf1987 (2012)
"The only 3 women are from Jamaica, the male singer is from Aruba, they hail from germany."

3. ABOlsen69X (2013)
"Liz Mitchell and Marcia Barrett were born in Jamaica, moved to the UK, then Germany. Maizie Williams was born in the West indies, then moved to the UK and later Germany."

4. ClausRles (2013)
"Yes I like it . It's a very good remix with the sound in the middle of 90's. The rap version on the Cd-single is fantastic.It was in the UK top 40 in 1993. Good made video."

5. Daddy Cool (2017)
"At the primary school they played it every single break, eight years"

Example #3: "Brown Girl in the Ring" - a Folk Dance from the Caribbean (2nd & 3rd)

Banteer N.S., Published on Mar 13, 2012

2nd & 3rd class perform "Brown Girl in the Ring" - a Folk Dance from the Caribbean.

Larry and Ita are doing a workshop of folk dances from around the world with all the pupils in the school.
I'm not sure which country this was filmed in. I don't think it's the United States.

Example #4: brown girl in the ring (guyanese reception )

SuperBollywoodboy, Published on May 22, 2013

Guyanese reception fun fun fun
This wedding reception is from Guyana, Although Guyana is located in the northern coast of South America, it is considered part of the Caribbean.

Example #5: San Andrés Colombia Es 7: Brown Girl in the Ring (Ronda de la Morenita)

Liceo Infantil Marco Cali, Published on Nov 1, 2013

Durante el recrreo los niños juegan y bailan la ronda tradicional Brown Girl n the Ring (la Morenita de la Ronda), mientras su maestra Ofelia saluda a su amiga Eugenia Robinson y la invita a que hable con los niños y les comparta su sabiduría sobre la cultura de San Andrés, Providencia y Santa Catalina...
La profesora Eugenia Robinson es un personaje real de las islas, le hemos querido rendir un homenaje a ella y a todos los raizales de la isla que inspiraron el trabajo realizado en este proyecto. Algunas de las líneas en el guión son sus propias palabras....
Google translate from Spanish to English:
During recess, the children play and dance the traditional Brown Girl n the Ring round, while her teacher Ophelia greets her friend Eugenia Robinson and invites her to talk to the children and share her wisdom about the Culture of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina ...

Professor Eugenia Robinson is a real personage of the islands, we wanted to pay homage to her and to all the raizales of the island that inspired the work realized in this project. Some of the lines in the script are his own words. You can meet and learn more with her at:
Here's information about San Andrés:
"San Andrés is a Colombian coral island in the Caribbean Sea. Historically tied to the United Kingdom, and politically part of Colombia,[1] San Andrés and the nearby islands of Providencia and Santa Catalina form the department of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina.[2][3] San Andrés, in the southern group of islands, is the largest of the department. The official languages of the department are Creole, Spanish, and English."

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