A-i-ú → Portuguese.

First Description: Manuel
Raimundo Querino, 1916
Cycles: One
Ranks: Two
Sowing: Single laps
Region: Brazil

A-i-ú appears to be a close variant of Oware that was played in Brazil. Its name is the Portuguese spelling of Ayo, a mancala game in Nigeria from where many slaves were deported to South America.

A-i-ú was last observed in 1916 by the historian Manuel Raimundo Querino in Bahia.

He wrote about the game:

Nas horas de descanso entretinham-se a jogar o a-i-ú, que consistia num pedaço de tábua, com doze partes côncavas onde colocavam e retiravam os a-i-ús, pequenos frutos cor de chumbo, originários de África e de forte consistência. Entretinham-se largo tempo nessa distracção.

Free translation:

In leisure time, they amused themselves by playing the a-i-ú which consisted of a piece of board with 12 hollowed parts where they placed and removed the a-i-ús, small fruits of colour of lead, which originated from Africa, and are of hard structure. They amused themselves for a long time with this pastime.

At this time the game was also found by the folk researcher Luís da Câmara Cascudo in Bahia's capital Salvador.

Ebenezer Latunde Lasebikan did more research on the game in the early 1960s, at which time the game seems to have disappeared. He stated in 1963:

Later investigation revealed to me that ayò was indeed, known in Bahia many years ago, but that it has now disappeared. Why a game so popular among the Yorubas, and by nature, so captivating, should have died out completely in Bahia, I still have not been able to discover.

Lasebikan re-introduced the game into the Yoruba classes at the Center of Afro-Oriental Studies of Bahia University with the help of Nigerian students in 1962/63.

In 1966, the Brazilian folklorist and journalist Edison Carneiro claimed that the game became extinct in the city of Bahia (i.e. Salvador) in 1920.

Robert Oba Cullins, a member of the discussion forum MancalaGames and the director of the Warri Society International in New York (USA), reported in 2005 that he saw the game in a museum in the city of Salvador:

The Museu Afro-Brasileiro has a couple of boards on display in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. (...) I believe there were just two on display, along with other items of the Yoruba culture.

However, he continued:

I was not able to confirm if these items were used and acquired in Brazil or were just in the museum to represent the African/Yoruba culture that survived in Brazil.

The Dutch mancala researcher Alexander J. de Voogt considers that further research needs to be done as it might be well possible that the game survives in isolated pockets in north-eastern Brazil.

Maurício Lima reported at the Board Games Studies Colloquium XI that there will be a research project of the Pontífica Universidade Católica de Minas Gerais in 2008 to re-discover the game.

Other Mancala Games in Brazil

The French ethnologue Christian Béart and later the Russian Assia Popova suggested that mancala games survived in the jogo de buzios ("game of cowrie shells"), which serves as a divinatory instrument in the Afro-Brazilian indigenous religion of Candomblé. However, the American religious studies scholar Mary Ann Clark and the Brazilian anthropologist Rita Laura Segato, the foremost experts on Candomblé, believe that the jogo de buzios is based on a divinatory system that was still known and used in West Africa as late as the 1960s. Both suggest that the jogo de buzios is rather associated with the manipulation of cowries in the marketplace and that there is no connection to mancala whatsoever. Furthermore, in jogo de buzios there are no holes, no sowing, no capturing, no playing, no players... just throwing the cowries and looking at the pattern formed.

In 1995, the Portuguese Elísio Romariz Santos Silva made a case for some four row mancala game once being played in southern Brazil where many slaves were shipped from Angola.


Béart, C. 
Awèlé. In: Alleau, R. (Ed.). Dictionnaire de Jeux. Veyrier/Tchou, Paris (France) 1964, 13-15.
Deledicq, A. & Popova, A. 
Wari et Solo: Le Jeu de Calcul Africain. Cedic, Paris (France) 1977, 20.
Lasebikan, E. L. 
Brazilians Adopt Yoruba Game. In: West Africa 1963; 2391 (March 30): 352.
Lima, M.
Mancala Games in Brazil: Is Board Game a Media? In: Board Game Studies Colloquium XI: Book of Abstracts. University of Lisbon, Lisbon (Portugal) 2008.
Querino, M. 
A Raça Africana e os Seus Costumes na Bahia. 5.° Congresso Brasileiro de Geografia na Bahia, Salvador (Brazil) 1916.
Santos Silva, E. R. 
Jogos de Quadrícula do Tipo de Mancala com especial Incidência nos Practicados em Angola. Instituto de Investigação Científica Tropical, Lisboa (Portugal) 2005, 251-253.
Voogt, A. de 
Personal communication 2006.
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