African Game Inventions

African Game Jenga

The African game Jenga was created by Leslie Scott.  Although British by nationality, Scott was born in East Africa.  As a child, she learnt to speak both English and Swahili.  She named her game after the Swahili word which translates as build. 

African Game Jenga

Jenga is essentially a game where a tower is built from 54 wooden blocks.

Blocks are removed from the lower part of the stack one by one, and placed on top.  Effectively, the tower grows taller but becomes less stable and eventually reaches tipping point until it collapses and ends the game.

The 1970 s were interesting times to grow up in.  Technology arrived late in Africa, and many people either made their own entertainment, or played and then varied or modified existing games to keep themselves amused.

Many of us customised the rules of card, board and floor games.  We played hybrid versions of anything from poker to Monopoly.  Needless to say, this often got confusing and game nights would end up in either fits of laughter, or fisticuffs!

Ms Scott’s family seem to have followed this trend – They used what they had available, namely wooden blocks bought from a sawmill in Takoradi, close to their home in Ghana.  The game we now know as Jenga thus evolved from a family game made up by the Scott family when they lived in Africa.  

Jenga and it’s rise to fame is well documented.  The game was launched and named at the Toy Fair in London in ’83, & initially sold through Scott’s own company – Leslie Scott Associates.

The early version of the game was manufactured in Yorkshire by the Camphill Village Trust, Botton.  According to wiki, it is one of these early games that is on view to the public at the V&A Museum of Childhood.

Robert Grebler from California was awarded worldwide rights to import and distribute Jenga in 1985.  These rights soon passed to Poknobe Associates, a company in which Grebler remained a partner.

Irwin Toy was licensed to sell Jenga in Canada, & were also made master licensees worldwide.  They in turn licensed  Schaper in the U.S.  After Hasbro bought Schaper they in turn launched the game under the Milton Bradley flag, and retained the worldwide licence in most countries.

African Game for drinkers

In South Africa and elsewhere Jenga became a very popular drinking game for adults.  The challenge of balancing the blocks while under the influence certainly adds another dimension to the game!

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Games for Africa

Wiki says that over 50m games have been sold worldwide, and quotes Leslie Scott herself in this regard.  Whatever the number is, this humble game from Ghana has popped up in schools, hostels, camping sites, schools and game cupboards all over the world.  I have played it many times over the years, but never knew that it originated in Africa.  Did you?

African Game Jenga

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Thanks to viktorbir  via Reddit for correcting me.  Jenga means build, & not to build.  Duly corrected.  

Sources:  Wiki, ‘ Photos are my own.  Article first on 11/01/2016, all rights reserved.  You are welcome to link to this article.