A Short History of Mancala

Posted: May 24, 2010 – 9:18 am

The modern world gives us the unique opportunity to enjoy heritage board games & board game rules from every corner of the world. Board games have been a popular form of entertainment for thousands of years.

Mancala Game : Awalé _ Board Game Rules Blog

Mancala Game : Awalé _ Board Game Rules Blog

Mancala game is one such game, though it is more accurately a group of similar board games that are played across Africa, India, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean. The oldest fragments of a mancala game that have been found, including a pottery board and cut rocks, have been dated to sometime between the 6th and 7th century and were found in Eritrea (Aksumite Ethiopia in Matara at the time) and Yeha in Ethiopia; even Giyorgis of Segla describes a game called qarqis in his 14th century Ge’ez treatise “Mysteries of Heaven and Earth”, though qarqis can refer to either Gebet’a (what we call Mancala today) or Sant’araz (or Ethiopian chess, commonly referred to as sent’erazh). Some have theorized that the game may date to the earliest periods of human civilization since obtaining the proper game pieces is easily accomplished and some facets or the game bear a striking resemblance to certain agricultural activities; but most evidence points to the game being no more than 1300 years old.

Though never as popular in most of Europe, Mancala is played in the Baltic region, where it was once one of the most popular board games. Versions of mancala have even appeared in such diverse places as Southern Germany, Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria.

Mancala game has proven much more popular in the United States, where a far greater number of people enjoy the game. In Louisiana, for example, a classic mancala game known as Warra was a common form of entertainment into the early 20th century. The Cape Verde version of mancala is called “ouril”. Popular throughout the islands, this is the version that was brought to America by immigrants from that region. Today, you’ll find people of Cape Verde descent still playing this game in small New England towns. The Mancala Games have seen their popularity rise in recent years as people have begun to “search for their roots”. All over Africa, people compete in awale ( afican term for mancala & rules ) tournaments to win prizes. Mancala is a delightful and instructional diversion that seems destined to become one of the great global games like chess or checkers. It requires careful calculations and planning to develop a successful strategy.

One famous story about mancala describes two great champions, immersed in a tense game, and the whole village was so captivated by watching these two masters that not one villager noticed when a fire began and burnt everything to the ground.

Will you feel the bite of the Mancala bug as well?… Whoops! Too late! It’s caught you now!

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