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The games we played. COVID Series 3. Bok-Bok. [Goat-Goat].

Updated: Jun 5, 2023

It’s been about two months of lockdown here in Australia. Partial opening up will be interesting. How big will the second wave last? Wherever you are, stay safe.

Of course there are many recognised contact sports. At a youngster, bok-bok [goat-goat] was it for those who dared to play the game against the wishes of parents and school principals. In a country famous for political banning of the Government’s critics, bok-bok was unique as the only sport banned the way it was. Of course, in these COVID-19 isolationist days, it’s a sport to be avoided. In terms of people proximity, it’s about as bad as a rugby union maul close to the goal-line.

Many of the street games had Afrikaans names. In many areas, we mixed the languages. In Cape Town, a sentence combined Afrikaans and English like a tapestry of words thrown in with some Malay and indigenous African words[see separate Afrikaans language blog ]. In many games, they doubled the names as in bok-bok.

Buqa buqa. Adapted from a 16th century painting.

Bok-bok apparently has its roots in Roman antiquity. Buqa buqa seem to be Uzbek words for bull. A “bok” in Afrikaans is a goat, so it seems the original animal was its larger cousin, a bull. In other countries, the name covered a farmyard, including horse and donkey! All are beasts of burden, an apt name for the game.

There could be up to a dozen players split into two teams. Like most games, a captain chose his team. The two captains alternated as they chose players for their strength, agility and their ability to jump. They needed long jumpers who could add a bit of height to their jumps. Many of the players were there as space fillers.; those who could not jump added to the drama of the contest. I was an early pick as a long and high jumper – good to start with and good at the finish in a hard landing from height in an attempt to collapse the bok.

Here’s a shot from Korea. A universal game?

Often, the skinniest/smallest in the team was the head of the goat with his/her back against a wall or a tree for support. The goat’s head formed the base of the column of players who had to bind onto each other as they bent over in a straight chain with their heads tucked between the legs of the player ahead. They would hold onto those in front of them as tight as they could. To add to the difficulty for jumpers, a strong, tall team member was often the last in the bent-over column of the goat. Stability was critical in building a team’s bok.

The other team had to jump along the length of the column of backs. Captains decided on the order of jumping. The best jumper went first and had to stay put where he landed. The aim was to go as high, as hard and as far as possible to collapse the column of huddled bodies. Subsequent jumpers landed behind or on top of the previous jumpers. If they ran out of space for their last jumper, then the disqualified jumpers became the goat.

If a jumper fell off the goat, then their team would be penalised and become the goat, so hanging on for dear life was critical. High-pitched squeals accompanied every successful jump; groans emanated when they failed. You waited with baited breath when the weaker jumpers came charging in on the short sprint needed before taking off. It could be quite comical when one of them crashed into the backside of the last person in the line.

If the supporting column of the bok collapsed, then they had to knuckle down again for another round. Arguments were frequent as to whether a column collapsed or the jumping group fell off. The latter was more common.

Once all the jumpers were on board, the captain of the jumpers would call out: “Bok-bok, hoeveel op die lyf?” [Goat-goat, how many on the body?]. The other captain chose a number from one to five. If correct, they reversed their roles. If the guess was wrong, if needed, the goat’s captain could check the number written in the sand at the side of the road. How funny it was when an unstable mound of jumpers started to slide over in an untidy heap before the question was put to them. I chuckle at the thought of a couple of serial offenders, usually the last to be chosen by a captain. What did that eventually do to their psyches? [Any comment appreciated.]

Here was a game that the girls loved. Many were good jumpers, and no one objected to their presence. No boy that I knew ever did! As popular as the game was, it was played out of sight of parents who frowned on the game for fear of spinal damage, although I never heard of anyone paralysed when the goat collapsed. Come to think of it, could those bok-bok days explain my chronic back-ache? Medical research needed to answer this one!

The game was hugely popular and had to rank as the most boisterous and fun-filled of the early evening sessions we had. Anyone up for a bok-bok challenge? I’m ready, bad back and all! By the way, in these days of inactive computer games, do the kids even play bok-bok? Replies awaited!

Finally, the great flu epidemic lasted two years; the second wave was worse than the first; the third wave was smaller. Pandemics start to settle when 60+% of the population has been infected. So keep well out there in our disparate, but linked world.


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