Mancala World
Other Names: Abala, Abalalà
First Description: Harold
Courlander, 1943
Cycles: One
Ranks: Three
Sowing: Multiple laps
Region: Eritrea, Ethiopia

Abalala'e (Tigrinya for "eating") is the most widely played mancala game in the highlands of Eritrea.

It was first described as Abalalà by Harold Courlander in 1943. The ethiopist Richard Pankhurst learned the same game in 1971 from Abba Pawlos Tzadua of Serae, Abba Zacharias of Akala Guzay, Michael Yacob of Akala Guzay and Gabra Sellasé Gabra Amlak of Serae. All these players were Christians who either served at the Catholic Cathedral of Addis Abbaba or were students at the Haile Seilassie I University.

The game is played by males and females, usually in holes in the ground, particularly in the period of marriages largely after the harvest season from November to January.

Abalala'e was described as Game 1 by Pankhurst.


The board has 3x6 holes. Initially there are three seeds in each hole. Each player owns the row closest to him and the three holes of the central row at his right hand.


Initial Position

Each move starts with a player picking up the seeds of one of his holes, which are then dropped one by one into the ensuing holes. If the last seed of a lap falls into a non-empty hole, the move is continued with its contents until the last seed falls into an empty hole.

Direction of Sowing

The first move is played simultaneously in a racing manner until both players have reached an empty hole.

The first player to reach an empty hole starts the second stage of the game, which is played turnwise.

If, in the second stage, a player drops his last seed into an empty hole in his area, he captures all the opponent's seeds, which are in the opponent's hole(s) of the same file.

  • However, if the opponent's holes were empty, nothing is captured and the move ends.
  • If the player could capture, the seed that effected the capture is moved into the next hole. If this hole is empty and in his area, he captures again provided that the opponent's holes of its file contain seeds. If this hole was occupied, a new lap begins. A player is permitted to do any number of captures.

It doesn't matter whether a stone is dropped in the outer or the central row, nor whether the opponent's seeds are in the outer row, the central one or both of them.

It is not permitted to pass a move.

The game ends when a player cannot move on his turn. The other player then appropriates the remaining seeds. The player who had captured more seeds wins the game.


Players may count the seeds. If they want to cancel and repeat a move, they would say in Tigrinya: "Aygushetoyn." (i.e. "I must change."). But their opponent can refuse their request by saying "Gushetoka." ("You must not change.")


Courlander, H.
The Ethiopian Game of Gobeta. In: The Negro History Bulletin 1943; 7 (10): 21-23.
Pankhurst, R.
Gabata and Related Board Games of Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. In: Ethiopia Observer 1971; 14 (3): 171-172.


© Ralf Gering
Under the CC by-sa 2.5 license.