International Day of Play

International Day of Play

Blog Article 1: June 11, 2024

Written by Georgette McGlashen-Miller

Research Fellow, ACIJ/JMB

From Work Songs to Ring Games: The Evolution of Jamaican Play

The United Nations on March 25th 2024 announced June 11th 2024 as the International Day of Play. This follows a global campaign led by a coalition of organizations, including Right To Play.
Right To Play is a global organization dedicated to using the power of play to educate and empower children facing adversity. The campaign aims to emphasize the critical role of play in children’s lives, education, and their overall development, while also advocating for the protection and promotion of children’s right to playing. 

As such on the International Day of Play, communities around the world come together to celebrate the importance of play in human life, especially among children. In Jamaica, this celebration takes on a unique character, as the playful traditions in Jamaica are rooted in the resilience and creativity of the enslaved Africans and their interaction with, and navigation of their colonial past. 

According to Olive Lewin in Rock it Come Over: The Folk Music of Jamaica, in her chapter “Music for Work, Play, and the Spirit”, play is defined as “the acting out of a slice of life, [rather] than a game” (88). This informs that some play activities in earlier Jamaican culture, incorporated games that entertained, as well as those that taught moral values and behavior necessary to the success of everyday life. While fun was a component, play predominantly focused on ‘edutainment’, which involved and targeted both children and adults. Based on the enslaved history, Afro-Jamaicans had to find creative and cunning ways to assert and maintain their humanity and cultural identity. One such means was through singing – specifically, work songs.

Work songs served several purposes for the enslaved. Two of these purposes were to provide a rhythmic accompaniment to labor, making tasks more bearable, while another served as a form of communication. Like many cultural practices in Jamaica, work songs were syncretic being a blend of African rhythms, European influences, and indigenous traditions, resulting into a powerful expression of resilience in the face of oppression. 

In postcolonial Jamaica, many of these work songs evolved, becoming playful activities of children in the form of ring games, or children games. Many ring games became a popular way for Jamaican children and youth to engage in communal play while preserving their cultural heritage. These games often incorporate elements of traditional work songs, with rhythmic chants and call-and-response patterns. Children often engage in singing play songs during school breaks, such as lunch times, and between domestic chores. While their popularity has waned in contemporary times, some are still practiced in remote rural areas, and even some urban spaces such as tenement yards, where access to playground space is used for communal recreation. Two examples are “Sen mi Niki go a skuul” translated as “Send my Nicky to school”, and “Manuel Road” translated “Emmanuel Road”.

Sen mi Niki go a skuul mi se Salaman

Niki gaan a man yaad (x2)


Send my Nicky to School, I say Solomon

Nicky gone to man yard (x2)

“Sen mi Niki go a skuul” is an instructional dancing game that includes the players performing dance movements in the song. For example, ‘wainin’ translated as ‘whinning dance’. This song addresses the unfortunate and unintended consequences of teenage pregnancy among schoolgirls who skip classes to meet their boyfriends, who may then exploit them sexually. Often, this game is played among teenage youths. 

Another song is “Go Dong a Manuel Ruod”:

Picture of person playing “Go Dong A Manuel Ruod” taken from (

Go dong a Manuel Ruod Gyal an Bwaai

Fi go brok rak stuon (x2)

Brok dem wan bai wan (gyal an bwaai)

Brok dem tuu bai tuu (gyal an bwaai)


Go down to Emmanuel Road Girl and Boy

To go and break big stones (x2)

Break them one by one (girl and boy)

Break them two by two (girl and boy)

There are variants of this songs that suggests that “gyal and bwaai” (girl and boy) is sung as “galang bwaai” (go on boy). Nevertheless, this song sees participants sitting in a ring formation, holding a large stone. As the song is sung, the stone is passed either left or right from one person to the next, to the rhythm of the song. The emphasis of this game is concentration, counting, and teamwork. (Jamaica Memory Bank Newsletter). 

Olive Lewin attests to the evolution of work songs into ring games by stating that: 

…these songs have a long history in Jamaica. Many of them have been adopted or adapted from other cultures and have been “Jamaicanized” by means of syncopation and improvisation, by dramatization and the use of movements progressing from mime and formal greetings to outright dancing. (Lewin, 2000).

The incorporation of Jamaican heritage into children’s play serves as a form of cultural preservation, ensuring that traditions are passed from one generation to the next. It fosters a sense of identity and belonging among Jamaican children that grounds them in their rich cultural heritage. Ring games play a vital role in community building, encouraging social bonds and promoting cooperation and empathy. 

 In contemporary Jamaica, ring games are preserved, promoted and showcased at special national celebration and activities such as the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) festivals, National Heritage Day Celebration, Jamaica Day Celebration and Grand Gala as traditional play activities. The African Caribbean Institute of Jamaica/Jamaica Memory Bank (ACIJ/JMB) as a custodian of Jamaica’s intangible cultural heritage is entrusted with the responsibility to research, document, and share this heritage, ensuring its preservation and promotion for future generations. The ACIJ/JMB holds an archive that documents folk songs, and audiovisual documentation of play songs, or ring games that can be accessed virtually and in-person. 

As we celebrate the International Day of Play, let us recognize the profound significance of Jamaican ring games and their role in preserving cultural heritage. Let us encourage children everywhere to embrace the joy of play and to honor the traditions of their ancestors. For in play, we find not only laughter and fun but also a connection to our past and a celebration of who we are.

Ring ‘O’ Rosie


NLJ Photograph Collection IN: Daily News Collection – Children, Ja.


Daily News, “Ring Games,” National Library of Jamaica Digital Collection, accessed May 22, 2024,

Lewin, Olive. “Linking up with Ring Games.” The Daily Gleaner, Kingston, Jamaica, May 19, 1996.

“Go Dong a Manuel Ruod.” The Jamaica Memory Bank Newsletter. Vol. 3.No. 2, (June 1991) 11. 

Lewin, Olive. ““Music for Work, Play, and the Spirit”. Rock it Come Over: The Folk Music of Jamaica. University Press.