The name of the game: Oware as men's social space from Caribbean slavery to post-colonial times

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2 Scopus citations


In Europe, North America and the Caribbean many museums have acquired Oware (Warri), which are elaborately carved wooden game boards. As museum objects, they represent a curiosity of a place, time, and art form, but Oware boards have never before this analysis been considered as a central component of male agency during slavery and under colonial rule. This paper illustrates how overlooked or misunderstood aspects of Caribbean material culture can be studied to re/position slave activities into contemporary heritage dialogues.1 In this case, we argue that when males played Oware they collectively engaged their African cultures and organised themselves in opposition to the slave plantation and colonial systems in Barbados and elsewhere in the Caribbean. The study uses documents and contemporary ethnographic interviews to argue that slave plantations and the colonial suppression of male activities and interactions were circumvented when men played an apparently innocuous game of Oware. When men played this game, they were re/creating the activities and structures of important African male groups, and thus facilitated the production of male creole social space. For more than 200 years Barbados was among the most controlling of Caribbean slave societies, and from 1834 to 1966 Barbadian society continued to be harshly dominated by English epistemologies, this therefore is an appropriate case by which to better understand the use of Oware for male agency building and the subsequent persistence and cultural importance of Oware into the 20th century.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)142-156
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Intangible Heritage
StatePublished - 2016


  • Barbados
  • Caribbean
  • Creole social space
  • Herskovits
  • Male agency
  • Oware (Warri) game
  • Slavery
  • West Africa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Conservation
  • Cultural Studies
  • Museology


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