The History Of Mancala

Mancala has more than 20 versions and has been played for thousands of years.

Mancala could possibly be the oldest game in the world. Versions of Mancala are played all over the world, known by more than 20 different names. With each different name, the rules are slightly different, but the game is essentially the same.

Before discussing the origins of Mancala, lets first go over the basics of the game. The game is played with rows of pits, either carved into a board or dug into the ground. Game boards typically have 2 or 4 rows, called ranks, or pits. Some versions use pebbles while others use seeds as the playing pieces. The exact rules vary as much as the names. The number of pebbles used and pits per row also vary greatly. The essence of the game is to capture as many pieces as possible. This directly becomes the name of the version from England titled Count and Capture.

There exist more than 20 different versions of Mancala. In East Africa, the game is called Bao. In Uganda it is called Omweso and in Ghana it is called Oware. Sri Lanka plays a version called Olinda Kaliya in which the playing pieces are the seeds of the Olinda bush. The Caribbean and eastern South America know the game as Wari. Other names from around the world include Warri, Ware, Walle, Awari, Aware, Awaoley, Awele, Owari, Wouri, Soro, Mangola, Gabat, Mulabalaba, Ayo, Sadeqa, and Congklak.

In regards to when Mancala was first played, I discovered something interesting. The fact is no one exactly knows! Using the information available on the Internet, it can be surmised that the game originated either in the African or Arab world. Accounts of the different versions disagree on exactly who was the first to play a Mancala style game and use different approximate dates of when it was first played. The most common belief is Mancala originated in ancient Sumeria and ancient Egypt where it evolved from the pit and pebble technique used for accounting purposes. It is known that Mancala was played in Egypt before 1400BC because Mancala boards have been found carved into roofs of temples at Memphis, Thebes, and Luxor. One website has a picture of a Mancala board carved into the roof of the temple of Seti I, father of the well-known Ramses II. A Caribbean website about a Mancala version from Barbados called Warri, stated that the game originated in the Sudan over 3600 years ago when individuals from the Kush Civilization on the upper Nile River used the pit and pebble technique for accounting purposes. Yet another website claims that the evidence of a Mancala style game board was found in National Geographic sponsored digs in present day Jordan which date back between 7000 - 5000 BC! One website about the Nabatean Empire stated Mancala pit and pebble style game boards have been found in the ancient city of Petra, but supposedly there have been disagreements if it can be truly classified as a Mancala family game.

The Mancala family of games has been played for thousands of years. Even though no one agrees upon where and who first played Mancala, through the evidence collected it has earned the right to be known as the oldest traditional board game in the world.

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