Here in Ghana, I discovered the enlivening and rhythmic game of Ampe. Girls clapping, dancing, jumping, singing games are common all over the world, but perhaps none more so that here in Ghana, where we see how such games harmonise communities.
The style of clothes is very important to the game of Ampe. Most important of all is that each girl should wear a short and tight skirt facilitating the necessary movement of the legs. This style of dress carries with it a chant from spectators "Okpeng" (Short) to which the participating girls would cheer "Odadwee" (Tight). It's obviously not only the game of Ampe that drew young men to these events, but also the girl's daring fashion.
Ampe had traditionally been a form of entertainment that many would enjoy at organised events. Ampe was either an addition to a ceremony or as an event on its own. In an interview with Rose Animah, 100 years old, of Kwamoso village, she explained how girls from 4 or more villages might come together and organise an Ampe event, purely for the fun of it. She was adamant that fighting and squabbling would never occur on such occasions. Although Rose didn't like to say directly, she alluded to the fact that most of the spectators were young men who were most likely very interested in seeing the young girls of between 15 and 20, performing Ampe in their short and tight attire. Nevertheless Ampe was taken very seriously by the girls and took great pride, firstly in being good enough to take part but also for the accolade of champion should they win. In her day Rose explained that material rewards were not important, yet today she believes girls are embarrassed to play Ampe since there is ot material gain attached to it. In an interview with Rose's sister Elizabeth Kyei, 88 years old, of Bewase village, she added that the coming of Christianity was much to blame for the loss of many traditions in the locality. Elizabeth noted that Christianity had turned many performers such as musicians away from ceremonial activities since they were all connected with the ancient animist religions. Elizabeth also pointed out that the new form of entertainment, "sound systems" electrified dj music systems, have replaced the traditional forms of entertainment and so the young don't see the value in games like Ampe. She also mentioned several other games that have long since died out as a consequence. With changes in society the importance of indigenous games bringing communities together has been almost completely lost. As a consequence girls from different villages are not participating and organising activities together as they might have done in the past, even at school it is hard to imagine girls organising tournaments, such as the one I filmed in Kwamoso, without an outside force stimulating them to do so.
Ampe has been shown to benefit the empowerment and social unity of girls in a community stretching across many villages and towns at a time. Whilst playing the game itself benefits several abilities: 1. Physical fitness is required especially during the longer format versions of of the game with big teams of 8 aside or more. 2. Anticipation is key to becoming Champion. Girls who observe and calculate each opponents bias towards throwing a particular leg forward and then being able to anticipate this momentarily, is Ampe's major skill to be mastered. Players are not allowed to hold back and throw their legs later than their opponents, this is cheating, so they must be extremely quick to switch leg positions at the slightest nuance or change in their opponents manoeuvres.
The game is played with 2 teams, each team consisting of 1 or more players in equal numbers.
One team will elect to win points if feet land "straight", that is to say a left foot versus a right foot or right versus left. The other team will win points if feet land "bend", that is to say a left foot versus a left foot or right versus right.
One girl from the first team will begin to jump and clap in synchronicity with a girl of the second team. At the moment the 2 girls land from jumping they will decide to place either their left or right leg forward, hoping to anticipate the other to gain a point.
If a girl wins a point she moves on to the next girl of the opposing team. This sequence continues until all girls on one team have been beaten. When this happens the team that won the turn are given the right to point to a girl on the opposing team to be ejected from the game.
Once a team has ejected all players of an opposing team, they have succeeded in winning.
There are also many additions and reversal rules that have been added to this basic format.
As with so many traditional or indigenous games of West Africa, Ghana's Ampe and many other games of its ilk are being lost to modernity. If it is one thing I have enjoyed about west Africa it is the original sense of community that can still be found in nooks and crannies. If only schools could help support these activities in a more organised competitive manner, then perhaps Ampe could once again be the unifying game it once was.