Kgomo Ya Sutlha (May Photo Challenge)

I provided the theme for May’s photo challenge: to photograph someone engaged in play.


ISO 100     18 mm     f/11     1/125 sec

Agricor Community Hall.  Letlhakaneng, North West Province.  South Africa.

May 2013.

One of my favorite aspects of Scouting has been the games.  I have taught a number of my favorite games and songs.  There’s a whole generation of Letlhakaneng youth who now know Davidson Outdoors classics like Giant, Wizards, and Dwarves and Street Fighter, not to mention old standbys like Sardines and Capture the Flag.  My Scouts have also taught me a number of traditional Tswana games and songs.

In this photo, a group of my Scouts play one of my favorite traditional Tswana games, called Kgomo Ya Sutlha (“The Cow Escapes”).  The game combines elements of two of my favorite childhood games, Red Rover and Tackle The Man With The Football.  The group forms a kraal by holding hands, trapping the “kgomo” inside.  The kgomo shouts “Kgomo ya sutlha,” to which the circle hollers back “Ska sutlha!” (“Don’t escape!”).

After an appropriate amount of hollering – which might be everyone’s favorite part – the kgomo runs towards the circle, trying to break the grasp of two players in the circle.  Usually, the kgomo is not successful and is repelled pretty violently backwards.  Eventually, however, the kgomo will succeed in its attempt to escape.  After that, it’s game on: the whole circle will drop hands and pursue the beleagured kgomo.  (The incentive here is to be the first to tag the kgomo – in this context, “tag” usually means “tackle” – so you get to be the next kgomo, and therefore the next to get tagged.  Or tackled, as it were.  Some things I will never understand.)

I taught a variation of this game to some kids in a village near Nkhata Bay, in northern Malawi.  Despite my tragic attempts to explain the game in my limited Chichewa – I called it “Ngombe Yo Ko Pita,” which translates to something like “The cow is going at” – it was a big hit.  Playing in Malawi had the additional advantage of the lake, into which I could catapult the ngombes after catching them.

Technical notes

I took the shot from above.  At the community center where I run Scouting meetings, there is a row of post office boxes, converted from a shipping container.  I climbed this small building to gain the acute perspective.  A striking feature of Andrew Breunig’s April shot was the cant of the vertical away from vertical, a feature I have reproduced in this shot.  One of Andrew’s criticisms for my April submission was that the subject of the photo wasn’t quite in focus; had the subject been a bit more sharply defined, it would have drawn the viewer’s eye more effectively.  Though the subject in this photo is also a bit blurry, I wanted to give the viewer a sense for the speed of the girl running at the clasped hands of her fellow Scouts.  Still, I feel that a somewhat sharper focus would have been appropriate.  Closing down the aperture, increasing the ISO, to create a wider depth of field and increasing the shutter speed would have stopped the action a little more effectively and might have brought the subject into better focus.


8 responses to “Kgomo Ya Sutlha (May Photo Challenge)

  1. When you get back “state side” as we used to say in the Navy, I may make you director of gaming activities at Burge. Were you ever the cow? If so I’ll bet they really mauled you. Sandy

    • The kgomo is shown very little mercy. I would love to see some of the old birds out at Burge playing Kgomo Ya Sutlha, etc….especially after a couple of rounds of Scotch. I’ll be Stateside 21 July! Can’t wait to see you and everyone else at Burge!

  2. Hmmm…bet the Tswanas have their own version of “Duck Duck Goose”…the little ones would love to play that one….and those not inclined to being tackled:) Beautiful photo…I can see and feel the fun your Scouts are having! Thank you for sharing this moment. Nancy

  3. Howell,
    I love the fact that you are teaching these children (your scouts) such fun games! Your photo is awesome! I can feel the excitement and fun they are having. Next you might try Red Rover Red Rover!
    As always, thanks for sharing!
    Take care and enjoy these last weeks with your Scouts.
    Love, Sara

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