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Ancient African Game: How to Play Mancala Games

Updated on March 27, 2019
viryabo profile image

Viryabo, always a games buff for over five decades. From snakes & ladders at a young age, chess as an adult, and now to video and e-games...

Mancala games are known to be the oldest board games in the world and are 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 Is 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 of a wide scope as that of a 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

This 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.

Mancala Game Board Set-up
Mancala Game Board Set-up

Variations Of Mancala Game

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

  • Opon 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. This is a modern type of board which has become quite popular with today's players.

Traditionally, the boards were roughly made and not carved out intricately as you'll find today. In the ancient times, even up to the present in some villages, the games were played with holes dug into the earth, or holes carved out of stone or rock.

While playing the game, people will crouch around the holes and play, knees bent and close to the ground, a dim picture of our forefathers playing a game of wits.

Ancient African Game
Ancient African Game

But today, you will find there are boards of different shapes, sizes, and configurations and they are all made from different kinds of materials ranging from engineered wood to leather, acrylic, copper/bronze, stone, or marble.

Some come in hinged cases that can be conveniently opened and closed tight and when it unfolds, you place the beads or seeds in the holes and start the game.

You can still find mancala boards, many decades old in African and Asian homes. As they've aged, they have become smooth and worn by so many years of use, most passed from one generation to another.

These very old and sometimes worn types are mostly relics of the past, with some being invaluable and considered as heirlooms or keepsakes.

© 2009 viryabo

Your Comments Are Welcome

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    • viryabo profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago

      Thank you @CuAllaidh and thanks for visiting.

    • CuAllaidh profile image

      Jeff Johnston 

      4 years ago from Alberta Canada

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

    • viryabo profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Thanks Kimberly

    • Kimberly Vaughn profile image

      Kimberly Vaughn 

      6 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 imageAUTHOR


      9 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.


    • keira7 profile image


      9 years ago

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


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