One of the world’s oldest toys is a township craze

| Mary-Anne Gontsana
Anovuyo holding a spinning top. Photo by Masixole Feni.

Spinning tops have been around for years and this is one of the toys that has been keeping township kids busy for decades, especially during school holidays.

According to Wikipedia, “The top is one of the oldest recognizable toys found on archaeological sites. Spinning tops originated independently in cultures all over the world.”

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Playing with spinning tops is a popular game amongst children in townships. Photo by Masixole Feni.

It’s a Thursday afternoon in Mfuleni’s hostels, around 12pm 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 spaza shops in the townships for as little as R2,50 or R3.

Ten year old Sinelizwi Mandili explains how the game is played. “When you buy the top you must make sure that 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 you 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.

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

Simamkele Nkunkumana, eight, says she taught herself how to play spin-top by observing her friends and it was a bit difficult at first, but she got the hang of it eventually. “I think playing the top is very easy, you just have to practice,” she said.

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A child balances a spinning top on his hand. Photo by Mary-Anne Gontsana.

TOPICS:  Arts and culture

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