Hand Games


In this folklore project, we focused on hand-clapping games that people from different cultures played during their childhood years. These games usually consist of sequences of handmovements accompanied by songs and are played by two or more children.  We were interested in hand-clapping games because they are a unifying element of folklore across all four of our countries and cultures, as a result, we were interested in understanding the similarities and differences between the games. We also wanted to understand, to a greater level, why these games specifically are so popular across the world. Our main method of recording this folklore was through video-taping volunteers performing these hand games. We have supplemented these video recordings with interviews. We then transcribed the hand clapping games from the videos into the paper for the project. We collected the information from our peers who played these games when they were younger and have memory of them. During our project, we analyzed movements and sounds the clapping games, looking at whether the games used repetitive patterns or if there were differences between games. For the songs, we looked at the variations and similarities in rhythm and rhyme in different geological locations and also analyzed the sounds and words used in the games. We also looked at the different subgroups that may play certain hand games more than others and also developed our own theory of the meaning and purposes of these hand games. In the following pages, we have provided a detailed example of each of the folklore that we collected, including data on the informant, rules of the game, any verbal aspects, and contextual data. We also performed a comprehensive analysis on all the games, looking to see whether there were any similarities or differences throughout. First, we looked into the settings in which these games were adopted and played. We also analyzed the comparison in motions and sounds throughout the games. Another aspect that we looked into was violence and how it pertained to the groups that would learn the games. Finally, we dived into the meaning and purpose of children hand games.


Children Hand Games Presentation


Akkad Bakkad – Indian/Pakistani Children Hand Game

Alphabet – Rwandan Children Hand Games

Chapulin Colorado – Chilean Children Hand Games

Chocolate – Chilean Children Hand Game

Crab – Vietnamese Children Hand Game

Concentration – American Children Hand Game

Kijembe – Kenyan Children Hand Game

Kirenge – Rwandan Children Foot Game

On the Planet Mars – Saudi Arabian Children Hand Game

Split – American Children’s Hand Game

– Turkish Children Hand Game

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  • Jennifer He ’20
  • Catalina A. Garcia Valenzuela ’21
  • Manzi Bryan ’21
  • Wendy W. Kangethe ’19



The respondents we interviewed said that these games were typically played in school, during recess, by school age children or in family gatherings where there were other children present. All of our respondents said that they learned the game from other children and they would mainly play the games during short periods of time when there were no adults around or the adults were not paying attention to them. Games, at least the ones that we have collected, usually require more than one participant for the game to continue. Some may need only two while other games permit a larger number of children.


In the American game “Split” and the Chilean “Chocolate,” we see similarities in hand motions. Both games have the performers hitting the front and back sides of each other hands. The difference is that in “Split,” players clap their back hands first, then switch to their front hands before clapping their hands together. Whereas, in “Chocolate,” the performers clap their inner palms together then the back sides of their hands. Note that they do not start with these motions, rather there other claps that they start with, then transition into this similar section. Another difference between the specific section/aspect of the clapping that we see in the two games is that for “Split,” the performers start out with clapping once – the back-side then inner-palm-side – then progressively increasing by one clap each time for each side, back and inner, after each round. However, in “Chocolate,” the performers start by clapping twice for each side, then going to once per side.

It is interesting to see that both “Chapulin Colorado” and “Concentration” have the same hand patterns to begin with even though they are from different parts of the world. This could perhaps be a result of the limited combinations of hand movements that are possible. Or, it could be that the two games may have originated from the same/similar source, but over the course of hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years, there are slight variations in other aspects of the game. One variation difference is that in “Concentration,” the motions are repeated over and over again, whereas in “Chapulin Colorado,” the was a “dancing” – foot movement aspect – that follows the clapping.

Throughout the hand games, we also see a lot of motions, such as clapping and sliding between the performers hands. The movements are not necessarily large, but enough that they require moving the hand up and down, side to side, etc. This is another similarity that is present in the Rwandan foot game where the performers are required to “dance around” and hit their feets with their partners, similar to many other games that we have collected which requires the performers to hit their hands with the other performers. Out of our collection, we only see one game that does not involve active movements in hands or performers colliding their hands with other performers. In the Pakistani Akkad Bakkad game, the hands are placed on the ground, not moving. The only movements is when the hand is selected to fold in. This is something that is different from all the other games that we have collected and is interesting to note.

One last note is that for many of the games, we see a repetition in hand/foot movements. Movements may be recycled over again. We can see this in “Concentration” and the “Rwandan Hand Games.” One explanation for this could be that it is easier for the children to remember the game and easier to play with other performers, especially when there are other elements, such as verbal aspects, that are added into the game.


Looking at the different games, we see that some have similar sounds that coincide with the clapping motion aspect. There is generally a specific beat to the songs that children must adhere to when making the movements. Most of the games that we analyzed are verbal in nature, with specific songs accompanying the movements. For those that are non-verbal, the sounds emanating from the accompanying movements (like clapping, hitting of feet) would maintain the rhythm and tempo of the song. *While the song’s meanings may be illogical, children often pay more attention to the sounds.

Games from different geographical locations share similarities in rhythm as well as the accompanying hand movements. For example, Chapulin Colarado and Concentration also have quite similar rhythms in their songs and hand movements/clapping style as well. Variations of “Concentration” are also found in other locations such as Rwanda and Kenya. These similarities and existing variations could point to the universal nature of these hand games.

The tempo and rhythm usually dictates the participation rate and rules of the game. In “Concentration”, one has to think up and volunteer a category item within the duration of the clapping cycle. If one fails to do so, they lose the game. In the Akkad Bakkad game, the moderator of the game points to each player’s fingers along with the song’s beat and tempo.

Even in non-verbal games, a specific order/pattern that is in other verbal games (instituted/demanded by the rhythm of the songs) is still present. For example, in the foot game from Rwanda, one has to maintain the tempo of the game and keep up with their partner even as the tempo progressively increases. Sounds are also made with the feet and the mouth (as the tempo picks up, the players get tired and begin to “grunt”).

Children use words because of how interesting they are phonetically rather than the logic they add to the songs. In Chocolate, the rhythm of the game could be maintained by any word that could be divided into four syllables. Another variation of the game would include “Mariposa” in place of choco-la-te. In Chapulin Colarado, children used the name of a famous mexican TV show character (“Chapulin Colarado”) despite not watching the show themselves and not knowing what it’s about. Using the character’s name was not because they had the show in mind while playing, but because they liked how it sounded.

Children also use sounds in place of words to advance the song and the rhythm, and not the meaning behind the song. For example in the Kenyan hand game, param param is used after every line, not because it is carries any specific meaning


We found that there are some differences between the games we collected from males and females. While both games had many similar elements like nonsensical lyrics the male and gender-neutral games we collected involved much more violent rules. For instance in the game ‘On the Planet Mars’ the losers of the game received a slap from the winners. Similarly, the gender neutral ‘Vietnamese Crab Game’ consisted entirely of trying to hit the other person’s hands as hard as possible. ‘Punchies’ a popular game played all over the world by young boys consists of children trying to punch each other as hard as they can until one of the children gives up. All of these games have significantly more violent actions than the more ‘feminine’ games we collected and they all happen to be games played by boys.

However, while games played by girls were not physically violent, the lyrics still contained elements of violence. In the Kenyan game ‘Kijembe’ the movements were non-violent, consisting of hand claps and ‘hi five’ actions. However, the lyrics are quite violent. The song goes:

The hoe is sharp

It cut my teacher

My teacher beat me

I told my mother

My mother told me

The hoe is sharp,

Therefore, we see that games played by girls are not non-violent, rather they express this violence verbally rather than physically.


At first glance, we can observe that children hand games are a way for children to connect with each other and a way to pass time or deal with boredom. For example, in terms of building relationships, the Rwandan hand game is used as a way for children to resolve conflict and apologize. Even though relationship building and entertainment are definitely some of the purposes of these games, there is more to it, even if children might not even be aware. Moreover, there is a connection between these games and children’s way of thinking, learning, and developing.

One aspect is motor development. During childhood, kids are still developing coordination, and these games can serve as an aid to practice their coordination, as they move their hands to a certain rhythm and matching somebody else’s hands. Games like “Chocolate” follow a direct relationship between sound and movement (each syllable has it own motion) which requires children to do the right movement with the right sound. Similarly, the Rwandan foot game requires a great amount of physical coordination.

Additionally, even if these games are learned from other children, they still have educational purposes (even if might have not been the children´s intention). During kindergarten and elementary school (when these games are usually played), kids are learning how to divide the world’s content  into categories. Kids learn about the different categories on their vocabulary, the different types of animals, etcetera. Games like “Concentration” incentivize the learning of objects within categories, and the more you expand your vocabulary within each category (i.e: fruit), the better you´ll be at the game. Similarly, the Rwandan Alphabet game helps children learn the alphabet. And the Kijembe song helps children learn how to count. Moreover, the songs in hand games can help children learn words and pronunciations, while understanding how rhymes and music works.

As with other types of children folklore, these games serve as a way for children to express themselves freely. Under the innocent appearance of a simple game, children can express how they feel or talk about somewhat “taboo” topics. For instance, in the Kenyan/Swahili hand game the topics serve for a children to express his or her frustration and anxiety for being hit by teachers. In the chilean game, “Chapulín Colorado”, the topics refers to pissing yourself, which is a somewhat taboo topic that children don’t get to discuss and that it filled with embarrassment and negative connotation even though it is an experience all children go through.  

Finally, like other types of children folklore, many times hand games seem to have no meaning. The lyrics seem to make no sense. A deeper analysis though does reveal some sense, and even when it doesn’t, it is important to emphasize that for children, sounds, rhythm, and movements can be more important than semantic meaning and logic.


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