History of Mancala

IGD - Mancala.jpg

The name mancala is from the Arabic word manqala, which is derived from the verb naqala, “to move.” There are hundreds of mancala games, all of which are similar in their basic goals and methods of play, though they differ in detail. Mancala games are usually games for two players, although there are often so many onlookers discussing the moves, giving advice and even interfering with play, that an uninitiated bystander might easily be forgiven for thinking he was watching a team game!

The boards for these games consist of a number of rows, each containing a number of cups. These are sometime made of wood, but just as often cut into stone, or simply pressed into the dry earth. The number of rows can be two, three or four, and the number of cups also varies from as few as three for simple children’s games to as many as 28 for several of the more complex games. Small objects such as beans, seeds or nuts, are arranged in various ways in the cups. There is no differentiation between those pieces. The aim is to redistribute them according to certain rules and in such a way as to capture as many “pieces” as is possible. All this sounds reasonably simple, but the speed at which these games are played and the complexity of most of them are such that they should present a challenge to almost anyone.

Most authorities agree that the birthplace of the mancala games lies in the region around the Red Sea. Indeed, boards found at Al-Qurna, Luxor and Karnak, all of which are in Egypt. These are the earliest mancala boards we know, a fact which not only supports the theory that the game originated in Egypt, but also puts it among the oldest games we know.

In Malawi, the game is called bao, depending on which part of country you are in the game is called oware, ayo, omweso, enkeshui, wari, kiuthi, mefuhva or aweet. There are in fact more than 200 versions of this "count and capture" game, played throughout Africa, all with slightly different rules. In North and West Africa it's common to use two rows of pits, in Ethiopia they play with 3 rows, and in East and southern Africa, they play with four rows. Some games have "stores" at the end of each board, others do not.

History of Mancala