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Mancala

The Name

Mancala is the name given to a family of strategy games widely believed to have originated in Africa.

The name mancala is derived from the Arabic word naqala which means ‘to move’.

Its a two player game and involves the strategic movement, or ‘sowing’ of seeds in cups around a mancala board. The aim of the game in most cases is to capture more seeds than your opponent.

Mancala History

Mancala is widely believed by historians to be the oldest game in the world. Its history is deep rooted in Africa, Asia and features haphazardly across the ancient world.

Mancala is widely believed by historians to be the oldest game in the world. Its history is deep rooted in Africa, Asia and features haphazardly across the ancient world.

The earliest boards would have been made using primitive tools constructed from clay and wood, with the higher value boards carved from stone using precious metals and stones for playing pieces. 

Some historians date the game back to the Sumerians in Mesopotamia, while archaeologists have discovered stone mancala boards in Jordan from 6,000BC.

It has also been linked to ancient Egypt following the discovery of Stone boards from 1400BC found carved into the roofs of Kurna temples in Memphis, Thebes and Luxor.

It is believed that the game spread from Egypt to many parts of Africa and then to the Middle East.

There were even findings in the Agora of Izmir proving that the Romans and ancient Greeks also enjoyed playing the game.

The Mother Of All Strategy Games

The quick-thinking and mathematical cognition required to keep ahead of competitors has also seen the game used as an effective teaching aid around the world for years. It has been known to help strengthen areas of logical reasoning, strategy and memory. Check out The Chief’s Tips for the latest mancala strategies.

The Mancala Family

Mancala really describes a family of games rather than a single version played by all. It’s a bit like playing cards, the cards are simply the tool that allows you to play a variety of sub-games with varying names and rules. Although it is a diverse family of games, the general premise remains simple and consistent across the board– whoever captures the most seeds wins.

This game is easily one of the most accessible games in the world. Many cultures played simply by digging depressions into the floor and using rocks or shells as playing pieces.

It would be hard to look at a historical culture and not find a version of this game. It is theorised that the lack of equipment needed and simplicity in learning how to play mancala were major factors in its popularity, adaptations and further spreading of the game.

The rules can be misleadingly easy to learn, but quickly becomes complex. Initially it may feel as if you are selecting cups at random, until you realize that the key to becoming truly skillful lies in the ability to quickly assess your choice of moves, your vulnerabilities and their subsequent outcomes.

Most games are played with a total of 48 seeds, a victory therefore requires a minimum of 25 seeds to be won because at this point the player has won over half of the complete set.

Check out The Chief’s Academy to learn how to play Mancala like a pro.

In some communities, to be able to own a physical board was considered a privilege reserved only for the wealthy.

These boards would often be intricately designed and accompanied by precious stones for playing pieces.

In addition to being used as an indicator of social status, the presence of boards in African temples and shrines has also led historians to suspect that the boards were related to ritual and divination, advanced mathematics or other science related uses.