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Silent Game

  • It's an adult's game, and when it's in process no one talks.
    Both competitors and spectators remain mute,
    working with their eyes, heads and hands.
    Mbonu Ojike - Igbo writer


    Like golf, the moves in the artwork SILENT GAME are played in total silence. It is rude to interrupt players with distracting noise - cell phones are switched off. Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957) made a well-known sculpture known as the Table of Silence in 1938 and dedicated it to quiet contemplation. When the massive stone of SILENT GAME lies dormant, which is of course most of the time, it becomes an object of cultural and aesthetic reflection. This very polished and incredibly hard stone also offers contemplative seating without suffering damage.


    SILENT GAME replicates the largest game in operation, one with 96 cup-holes. Craft shops offer various versions of the game for sale as rather commonplace kitsch. The sculpture wishes to liberate the grand game from this unfortunate position and to uphold it as the paragon of cultural and academic expression.




    I chose the game of Eating each others' cows, the world's oldest game originating from ancient Sumeria, because it is still actively played, especially in developing countries. I believe that the game shows that feats of mental brilliance are alive and well in those countries. Eating each others' cows is but one of dozens of names for the same game. In different parts of Africa the game is called Soro, Omweso, Lela, Adji Boto, Mancala, Bao, Oware, Wari, Ayo, Adi, Omo ayo, Kpo, Azigo, Okwe, Giuthi, Ajwa, Mweso, Bao Biswahili, Igisoro, Mancal, Gabatta. In South Africa it is called Eating each others' cows and sometimes Morabaraba or Murabaraba, a Pedi word and a name it shares with the popular board game known as 'meul'. In Venda it is Muravharavha and in Shona Umlabalaba, The Zulu for it is Mlabalaba and the Nama Iihus.


    Being the world's oldest game, Eating each others' cows also has numerous variations of play and rules. It is mostly popular in Africa but there are a multitude of Eastern nationalities that play it as well. An adapted form of the game played in the United States is called Pitfall.

    The story is told that several decades ago there lived in the western part of Tanganyika (now Tanzania) a youngster named Kamberage. He delighted in playing Soro with his father's friend, Chief Ihunyo, and no wonder, since the boy always came out the winner in this complicated African board game. Much impressed by Kamberage's skill, the older man advised his friend, Chief Nyerere, to send his son to school. Nyerere accepted the suggestion, and soon Kamberage was enrolled in a Native Authority boarding school in Musoma. In no time at all he was at the head of his class.


    Julius Nyerere, the president of Tanzania attended school even though he did not excel in Soro. As a college student in Scotland he became a champion chess player. Even today the Tanzanian president's house is the scene of frequent Soro tournaments, and Mwalimu, the 'Teacher', as the Tanzanian people like to call him, is hard to beat.


    The rows of cupholes in SILENT GAME are arranged in four sections, leaving clean shoulder areas surrounding the stone. These clean shoulders are used as pounds in which conquered cows/pawns are kept. The pound is called leshaka in Pedi, danga in Venda, lesaka in Sotho, Tswana and kraal in Afrikaans.


    The cow is used as currency throughout Africa. The value of a bride or lobola, for example, is expressed in cows. Cows as pawns and a symbol of wealth are known as dikgomo in Pedi and Tswana, as kholomo Venda and izinkomo in Shona. Texts reflecting on the value of cows as negotiable instruments in most of South Africa's indigenous languages were collected over time. These texts were then sandblasted on the clean shoulder areas of the work.


    THE SANDBLASTED TEXTS (The translations in brackets are only for the benefit of this essay and are not sandblasted on the stone)


    • Arali nisina kholomo anina tshelede (If you have no cows you have no money)
    • Arali nina kholomo ani fi nga nala (If you've got cows you don't die of hunger)
    • Arali nina vhasidzana vhanzhi niovha na kholomo nnzhi (If you have many daughters you will have many cows)
    • Uvha na kholomo nnzhi zwiita uri uvhena vhasadzi vhanzhi (If you've got many cows you may have many wives)
    • Ninga ita vhuvhi ho?he fhedzi arali nina kholomo vhua dzumbama (You can be wicked but if you have many cows you can cover it)


    • Ayikhab' izibay' ezimbili (it [the cow] does not kick in two kraals)
    • Yek' izilo zokwelamana (behold the beasts which follow one another)
    • Umhlambi kazalusile (the herd which looks after itself or a herd which is not tended)
    • Inkom' isengwa ngoyaziyo (the cow is milked by one who knows it)
    • Akukho zinkunzi zahlala ndawonye (no two bulls ever stayed together)
    • Inhlok' idlelw' ebandla (The head of the beast is eaten in the assembly of men)
    • Ayihlabi ngakumisa (The bull does not stab according to the shape of its horns)
    • Inkom' hambayo kayiqedi tshani (A beast that is passing finishes no grass)
    • Bafana, bafana, izinkomo ziyobuya nini? Niyocina konke, aniboni ukuthi izwe lifile? (Boys! Boys! When are the cattle returning? Will you collect them all? Don't you see that the land is dead)


    Northern Sotho

    • A bona nokeng ya Nile go etwa dikgomo te di upago ta mebele e kgahliago, te di nonnego; ta fula lehlakanoka. (. when out of the river there came up seven cows, sleek and fat, and they grazed among the reeds.)
    • A bona dikgomo te dingwe te di upago di etwa nokeng di latela tela; tona e le te makgoro, di otile. Ta tla ta ema mo khwiting ya noka ya Nile. (After them, seven other cows, ugly and gaunt, came up out of the Nile and stood beside those on the riverbank.)
    • Mme dikgomo te ta makgoro, te di otilego, ta ja dikgomo tela te bote te di nonnego. Gona moo Farao a phafoga. (And the cows that were ugly and gaunt ate up the seven sleek, fat cows.)



    • Gonne diphologolo tsotlhe tsa sekgwa ke tsa me, le ditshedi kwa dithabeng ka dikete. (For every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle of a thousand hills)
    • Wa bolaya dikgomo tsa bona ka sefako, le matsomane a bona ka ditladi. (He gave over their cattle to the hail, their livestock to bolts of lightning.)
    • Mme a ba tshegofatsa ba be ba ntsifala thata; diruiwa tsa bona a se ka a di fokotsa. (He blessed them and their numbers greatly increased and he did not let their herds diminish.)
    • Boelang kwa malapeng a lona ka dikhumo tse dikgolo le ka diruiwa tse dintsi thata le ka selefera le ka gouta le ka kgotlho le ka tshipi le ka diaporo tse dintsi gagolo, lo kgaogane tse lo di thopileng mo babeng ba lona le ba ga lona. (Return to your homes with great wealth - with large herds of livestock, with silver, gold, bronze and iron - and divide with your brothers the plunder from your enemies.)



    • Agteros kom ook in die kraal (Even the ox that pulls at the very back makes it to the kraal)
    • Ons ploeg met die osse wat ons het. (We plough [do our best] with the oxen we have)
    • Ons melk die koei en nie die os nie (We milk the cow, not the ox - German)
    • Die swart koei gee ook wit melk (The black cow also yields white milk - German)
    • Hoe ouer die koei, hoe mooier die kalf (The older the cow, the more beautiful the calf - German)
    • Hoe minder die koeie, hoe minder die melk (The fewer the cows, the less the milk)



    • The cow must graze where she is tied (American)
    • The cow never goes so far that its tail won't follow (Norwegian)
    • The cow knows the cowherd but not the owner. (Ethiopian)
    • A cow is a very good animal in the field, but we turn her out of a garden. (Samuel Johnson)
    • The cow is of the bovine ilk;One end is moo, the other, milk. (Ogden Nash)
    • A home without a woman is like a barn without cattle. (Ethiopian)
    • A bull does not enjoy fame in two herds (Zimbabwe)


    • Mokatapeyi (Guard the pay)



    • Ndingqongwe ziinkunzi ezininzi (Many Bulls surround me)
    • Uze ungamnqweneli umfazi wommelwane wakho, nenkomo yakhe, ne esile lakhe, nanye into eyeyomelwane wakho (Thou shall not covet thy neighbour's ox or donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbour)
    • Xa uthe waqubisana nenkomo yotshaba lwakho, nokuba liesile lalo, lilahleka: wolibuyisela kulo. Xa uthe walibona iesile lokuthiyileyo lisadaléle phantsi homthwalo walo, musa ukumyekela; likhulule umkhululise (If you come across your enemy's ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him, If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there, be sure to help him with it)



    • . Homu yi ti*a mufuwi wa yona, ni mbongolo yi ti*a sidyelo sa nwini wa yona (The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner's manger) *The 'v' has an upside-down circumflex as with ''
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