The Circle Game

The game is simple. Kids start with their feet touching (see image on right) and then take turns naming circular objects, concepts and natural cycles: Oranges, eyeballs, the sun… or the cycles of the moon, a full pregnancy, the changing of the seasons.  When a player is out of ideas they leave the group, until finally one wise and creative child remains.

I fell in love with this image the first time I saw it in 1985 and sought out the photographer, adventurer Jean-Pierre Hallet, who captured this shot in the 1960’s. Jean-Pierre cared deeply for the Efe Pygmy people and their peaceful ways, and dedicated decades to them, doing everything he could to help preserve their way of life.  Of all his wonderful photographs, this photo is my favorite; it’s a gentle reminder to stay in touch with the basics.

The Circle Game is an antidote to busy days when core relationships and values are eclipsed by the distractions of modern life. Jean-Pierre called it “Osani”, which means “love” in the Efe language. It has hung on my walls for over 35 years, and I never tire of looking at it.  I’m sure you will feel the same. Prints have been gifted to celebrate births, memorials, birthdays, graduations and weddings. Cards and posters make it easy to share with friends and students.

And on a related note: Did you know that half of the languages spoken today could be gone in less than a century? When we lose a language, we lose more than a method of communication. We lose a unique way of seeing the world—including traditions, stories, recipes, and songs that connect people to place, and to each other.

“In a Word” is a card line which highlights expressions from around the world that have no direct English equivalent; they are sentiments that transcend place.

Some of the languages featured are endangered and spoken by only a few. Others are fictional, and still more are strong and healthy in their own lands but unknown in the West. I began by asking everyone “What words do you use today that you learned from your grandmother? What expressions have been passed down to you that express very specific feelings or experiences?”  The answers were lovely, poignant, and memorable.  And so the collection began; the quest has become a never-ending treasure hunt.

Here’s hoping we can keep languages, and precious connections, alive.