Artifact in Focus: Mancala Board, Cote d’Ivoire

“Who plays mancala?” Students wave their hands in the air and nod excitedly. They laugh when they hear that CCMM purchased its mancala game board at Toys-R-Us.

They rush first to the familiar game board of two rows of six holes each when they come up to the Connecting Tables. “You pick up the rocks in this hole and you spread them out over the next holes . . . ,” countless students have explained. Also at the Connecting Tables, they play confidently with the Nigerian board, “Ayo”, configured the same way, using tamarind seeds as markers.

Students are surprised to learn that mancala-type games most likely started in African countries, and have spread throughout the world. Scholars believe that the game, named mancala for the Arabic “naqala”, meaning “to move,” traveled from its points of origin in Africa along trade routes, particularly to southern Asia. Slaves brought the “oware” game with them from West African countries to North America.

CCMM’s collection of these game boards includes a folding traveling game from Ghana, where “Oware” is the national game. Another folding traveling game, Katro, comes from Madagascar and is played with polished almond shells. Filipino students are delighted to see on display their 14-hole version of mancala, “Sungka”, played with cowry seashells.  Students can compare the rough hewn 32-hole “Bao” board from Tanzania with a beautifully carved 12-hole “Oware” board from Cote d’Ivoire.

“This game is easier than chess,” says one student. “And it’s a lot of fun.”

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.