Yulunga – a collection of aboriginal games

by Bernie DeKoven on July 5, 2012

The Australian Government and the Australian Sports Commission have compiled a small treasury of aboriginal games, called Yulunga. There are more than 100 games, each described so that a physical education teacher or youth leader can easily understand both the history of the game and how to adapt the game to a less aboriginal setting.

This is a significant find for teachers, game leaders, cultural anthropologists, and, of course, for game designers – because the games described are authentic, playable, and, often, archetypical.

I’ve chosen one game – a kind of hiding-and-finding game that you can play with kids on the beach or in a sand box.

The authors explain:

Finding-the-object games were played in many parts of Australia as well as the Torres Strait. The objects to be found were usually the eye lens of a fish or other animal. The hidden article used would often be the lens, obtained after cooking, from the eye of a fish, possum, rat or wallaby. The usual method of hiding the lens was to pick it up with a little sand and drop it during the sprinkling — the palm was turned down.

In a game from central Australia a luka-pul pul (little grub) was used.

The game is called Luka-Pul Pul. Here’s how to play:

Game play and basic rules

  • Players hide their eyes while a selected player places the luka-pul pul (marble or bead) in
    the sand.
  • The sand is usually roughly levelled out. The luka-pul pul is hidden somewhere in the area so that a small part of it can be seen, or the ‘hider’ may push it just under the sand leaving some sort of evidence that it is buried there.
  • The first player then attempts to find the luka-pul pul and if he or she cannot do so after a short time the ‘hider’ helps by pointing vaguely in the correct direction. Other players in the group have turns. This continues until the luka-pul pul is found (‘recaptured’).

Variations

  • The luka-pul pul is buried under the sand and the surface is smoothed out. The players are all given a stick to push in the sand where they think it might be. The winner is the nearest player to it. A small prize may be given for the winner.
  • A finger ring is hidden in a pile of sand and players carefully dig for it using long, thin sticks. Turns can be taken or all players go at the same time.
  • A length of thin rope about 10 centimetres (and tied at both ends) is hidden in a pile of sand. Players each have a long thin stick or ruler about 50 centimetres in length. The players push their sticks slowly and carefully into the sand and try to lift out the rope.
  • A tennis ball or other object is hidden in the playing area. Players stand where they think the object is hidden. The winner is the player closest to the spot and digs up the ball. (Suitable for younger players.)

When I was developing my curriculum in children’s games, and, later, when I was designing games, resources like Yulunga were invaluable. They helped me understand the connections between games and culture and between children and culture. They provided new games that I could share with kids, new avenues for helping kids connect to other kids in different parts of the world, and, most important, new opportunities to extend their repertoire of fun.

For more game collections, see my directory of connections.


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