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Playing marbles

The Waterman Enquiry is finally over and on the lips of several Barbadians is the playing of marbles by the principal with first and second form boys. This action did not appear to find favour with the commissioner, at least according to the media, which reported that his comment was “you (Broomes) are up there and they (the children) are down here”.

His statement reminded me of a situation a friend told me about when she was a teller in a commercial bank. She (the friend) said that it was Christmas Eve and she found that her cash would not balance. So while all the other tellers were wishing each other a happy yuletide season she was sweating over her cash trying to find the difference.

All at once there appeared at her elbow, a handsome young manager (non-Barbadian) who had come to her rescue. As soon as this occurred, people on their way out suddenly stopped to enquire what was the problem, some of them glanced shockingly at him. Later she heard comments like “he is a big manager so he should not be doing lowly jobs like that (helping her find her difference)”.

My friend however, has never forgotten the incident which has cemented in her the need to never think that other human beings are so beneath you that you cannot fraternise with them.

Now you may be asking what this has to do with pitching marbles. Unless we Barbadians are as the saying goes “blind in one eye and cannot see in the next” it is obvious to me that there are many young boys and girls around who lack some form of positive role model.

It is sad that some of them are only exposed to negative performances like the one highlighted in the media on Kadooment Day where a male was seen guiding a little boy towards a female who was gyrating on the ground. I cannot speak to Broomes’ intentions but it has become clear to me that he could have been seeking to fill a void which we all know is lacking among young men today.

Think about it, won’t it be better to see a group of young boys pitching marbles under a tree rather than smoking some illegal substance and or abusing each other with a litany of obscene language that is usually the norm. As far as I am concerned, some teachers should also group the young boys together and show them how to build a kite or a toy truck or tractor or even a cricket bat like what my father used to do with us kids a long time ago.

Given all of this marble talk, I decided to research the origins of the sport and here is what my ubiquitous friend,, has revealed. The game of marble playing was around for many hundreds of years and appears to be one of the oldest games ever played. In fact, according to the web, marbles were found among the objet d’art of a race of people who lived in America long before the Indians arrived.

The article also revealed that marble playing was found in Greek and Roman literature. Actually some remnant of these balls was found in the ruins of some buildings in Egypt where it was suggested that children used to play the game. What I found interesting about this piece of history was that the British museum still contains marbles that were used by both Egyptian and Roman children several centuries ago. The article also made mention of the Roman Emperor Agustus who seemed to have shown some interest in the playing of marbles long before the Christian era emerged.

Moreover, it appears that early Roman literature has made several references to the game, while in England in former times marble playing appeared to have been a popular and honourable sport. Apparently the balls were then made of genuine marble. Nevertheless, it is also believed that marbles were first designed by some Venetian glass makers and that the playing of the game took place during the early months of the year.

Apparently during spring many a young man could be found squatting, kneeling or crouched in large shooting tournaments trying to eliminate each other to become the state, national, or regional champion. However, for the most part children were mainly playing for the fun of it ( n.d.).

The words having fun made me stop and think. When last did you see groups of young men sitting together appearing to have fun. It seems to me that most of the time they are looking at each other balefully as if they are about to go to war. We have also heard all the negative stories about children either bullying each other or taking part in some form of antisocial behaviour.

Therefore, one can only make the assumption that Broomes was trying in some small way to change this culture to one of having fun with each other. In light of his responses to the commissioner one can also presume that he (Broomes) also found the sport stress relieving given the teaching environment at the school. Until next time let’s play some marbles…

* Daren Greaves is a Management & Organisational Psychology Consultant at Dwensa Incorporated. e-mail:, Phone: (246) 436-4215

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