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How To Play Mancala (Ancient African Game)

Updated on January 22, 2016
Intricately Carved Wood Board Structure For Playing Mancala Games
Intricately Carved Wood Board Structure For Playing Mancala Games

Mancala games are known to be the oldest board games  in the world and is believed to originate from Africa. Back in the ancient days of Africa, people often played mancala games with pebbles or stones, using hollow holes scooped out of the soil.  These pebbles or stones were  placed in, or moved around in a clockwise manner from hole to hole, and they are accumulated by each player during the game.

Later on, the use of specially carved wooden boards for mancala emerged with the use of beads, large seeds, beans, cowries or other seashells, depending on the geographical location of the players. These are now referred to as mancala board games.

Stone mancala boards have been found carved into the floors of temples in Memphis, Thebes and Luxor. Mancala games were known to be played in Egypt before 1400BC.

Mancala Games Played With Various Mediums

Despite its age and its primitive origins, the mancala game is a mathematical game of tactics, and some of its more complex versions have as much wide scope as the Chess game.

Mancala games can easily be played with whatever medium happens to be around.

The objective of mancala games is to capture more beads (or seeds) than your opponent , leaving your opponent with no legal move, and your side must be the first to be empty in order to win the game.

How To Play The Mancala Board Game

The mancala game is played on a solid wooden board  consisting of 2 rows (or ranks). Each row has 6 pits, making a total of 12 holes. There are 2 store pits at each end of the board, and these stores are used to hold the winnings of each player.

You begin the game by filling each hole with 4 beads or seeds. A player then picks up seeds from the hole and redistributes the seeds clockwise, one at a time into other holes around the board.

A few simple rules govern which holes a player can drop a bead into and when a player's turn is over. You or your opponent must accumulate the most beads in the store to win the mancala game.

Variations Of Mancala Games
Variations Of Mancala Games

The Variations Of Mancala Games

There are many variations to the mancala board game. And there are other names that mancala's known by:

  • Ayo
  • Oware
  • Awari 
  • Awele
  • Awale 

Some mancala games have more rows  and thus more holes on either side of the board. This variation of the mancala game is referred to as the 4 rank mancala board. 4 rank mancala games are played by 4 people.

Traditionally, the Mancala boards were not carved out very intricately. Some games were played with holes dug in the earth, or holes carved out of stone. Now, the mancala board game mostly comes as a hinged case that can be conveniently opened and closed. It needs to unfold to enable you place the beads or seeds in the holes and start the game. 

Today can still find mancala boards many decades old in African and Asian homes. They have become smooth and worn by so many years of use, passed from generation to generation.

These ancient mancala games are mostly relics of the past with some being invaluable and considered as heirlooms.

© 2009 viryabo

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    • keira7 profile image

      keira7 7 years ago

      Very interesting, I learn a lot with your hubs. Thanks Viryabo

    • viryabo profile image

      viryabo 7 years ago

      Hi Keira, thanks for your visit. I love your new avatar. So cute and beautiful. I love dogs with a passion. Im so glad you find my hubs interesting and learn a little from them.

      My first few hubs were lousy but i think im getting a bit better everyday. I have learnt so much from hubbers as well because the hubpages community is so helpful and fun too.


    • Kimberly Vaughn profile image

      Kimberly Vaughn 4 years ago from Midwest

      Mancala is my favorite game! I didn't know they made huge versions of the game or how old it was. Very interesting hub!

    • viryabo profile image

      viryabo 4 years ago

      Thanks Kimberly

    • CuAllaidh profile image

      Jeff Johnston 22 months ago from Alberta Canada

      Mancala is fun fast paced game that takes so much strategy it is always surprising. Great article!

    • viryabo profile image

      viryabo 22 months ago

      Thank you @CuAllaidh and thanks for visiting.

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