Ancient toy has township kids on top of the world

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Cape Town - Spinning tops have been around for years and is one toy that has kept township children busy for decades, especially during school holidays.

Wikipedia credits the top as being “one of the oldest recognisable toys found on archaeological sites" and originated independently in cultures around the world.

Spinning top _0551.jpg

Playing with spinning tops is a popular game among township children. Photo by Masixole Feni.

It is around noon in Mfuleni’s hostels and boys can be seen challenging each other with their different coloured spin-tops. Known as itola in isiXhosa, spin-tops can be bought at township spaza shops for only R2.50 or R3.

Ten-year-old Sinelizwi Mandili explains how the game is played.

“When you buy the top, you must make sure the silver pointed metal at the bottom is sharp otherwise it won’t spin properly. Then you take your string, which comes along with the top when you buy it, and twist it around your top from the bottom up.

"You then take the little that’s left of the string and twist it around your index finger, for grip. Once you have the string around your finger, turn the top upside down and, with force, throw it to the ground and immediately pull back the string.

"The throwing is the tricky part, because you have to sort of hold your arm out straight and twist it at the same time while pulling the string. If you get the throwing right, then the top will spin, if not, it won’t,” said Mandili.

Spinning top Games _0553.jpg

He said making the top spin determined if you were still in the game or had lost. Mandili also demonstrated how to pick up a top while it was spinning and place it, while still in motion, in the palm of his hand.

Eight-year-old Simamkele Nkunkumana taught herself to play spin-top by observing her friends. While it was "a bit difficult at first", she says she eventually got the hang of it. “I think playing the top is very easy. You just have to practice,” she says.

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A child balances a spinning top on his hand. Photo by Mary-Anne Gontsana.
Read more on:    cape town  |  games

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