Mancala World
First Description: George R.
Carline, 1929
Cycles: One
Ranks: Two
Sowing: Multiple laps
Region: Western Kenya,
Eastern Uganda

Ajua (named after the seeds used as game counters) is a very popular gambling game in western Kenya and is also played in eastern Uganda. The game, which is known by numerous ethnic groups including the Luo, Luhya, Samburu, and Turkana, is closely related to Lukho, but also has similarities with Boola. As in Lukho a player has no choice after the initial re-arrangement, but the lifting of seeds is restricted as in Boola.

Ajua is a game of herdsmen prohibited to women, although female researchers have been allowed to participate in Ajua matches.

Ajua employs a wooden board about six feet long and 48 seeds of the Wild Orange Tree (Toddalia asiatica).

During a game, players deploy sexually suggestive and sarcastic expressions as "chuowo thuon" (spearing with the cock), "turo tielo" (breaking the leg = to impregnate), "soko wang" (poking the eyes) and "nindo e bam" (lying on the thighs). According to Benjamin M. O. Odhoji this "sexually explicit verbal discourse is popularly viewed and accepted as part and parcel of any Ajua performance". The pits of the Ajua board are called, starting with the first hole from the right, "tielo" (foot), "pier" (buttocks or female genitals), "bam" (thighs), "wang'" (eye), "nungo" (waist), "kor" (chest), "ng'ut" (neck) and "wich" (head). Odhoji interpreted this as an "example of the rhetoric of representation whereby the Luo people attempt to influence or re-create the corporeal body by temporarily challenging its physical form" and wrote that "the body is deployed [in the game of Ajua] as a hypogrammatic derivation".

The Kenya Ajua Club registered on June 27, 1977 and later became the Ajua Association of Kenya. It is affiliated with the Kenya Inter-Municipality Sports and Cultural Association (KIMSCA)) and the Kenya National Sports Council (KNSC). In 2001, more than 20 Ajua clubs in Butere District led by Joseph Anzetse, the secretary of the Sabatia Ajua Club, were disowned by the national body and a legal dispute followed. In 2004, the national chairman was Mr Dennis Ogenda Otieno.

Local Ajua Clubs were reported from Kawangware, Makunga, Mathare Valley, Muthara (Nyambene), Nairobi, Nyandiwa (Suba), Nyilima (Nyanza), Sabatia (Nyanza), Siaya Town (Siaya), Sori (Migari), and Wichlum (Bondo). Siaya Town is home of President Barack Obama's father who is a member of the Luo tribe.

Tournaments seem to be widespread in Kenya. Sometimes short notes even made the national newspapers such as the "Daily Nation", which wrote on January 1, 2009, that "Busijo won the Ajua competition [in Sio Port] followed by Nambototo while Nambuku and Ganga [all names of Ajua Clubs] took third and fourth positions." There was even an Ajua tournament in the USA, which was held at the Kenya American Day (KAD) in Jersey City, N. J., on August 3, 2008.

The game was successfully used as an HIV/AIDS Awareness Campaign in 2003. A computer programme was written by Philip Apodo Oyier of the University of Nairobi in 2006.


The board (wer or mbero) consists of two rows with eight holes (udi) and a larger store at each end. A player owns the store to his left.

Initially players put three seeds (ajua) in each hole to ensure that both have the required and equal number.


Initial Position

Then the players re-arrange the seeds in their row. Holes can become empty, but there must be at least one hole whose contents can reach an occupied hole on the opponent's side on the first lap, when sown clockwise.

On his turn, a player must distribute the contents of the leftmost hole of his row in a clockwise direction, which reaches an occupied hole of the opponent's side in the first lap. If this is not possible, a player may sow the contents of the leftmost hole, which ends in the first lap in an opponent's hole that is empty. If this is not possible either, he must sow the contents of the leftmost hole, which ends in an empty hole on his side.

When the last seed falls into an occupied hole, which hasn't been "married" (see below), its contents are picked up and distributed in another lap. Exception: After either player has captured, a sowing also ends in an opponent's hole, which contains a singleton.

If the last seed is dropped into an empty hole, an opponent's hole containing just one seed (after either player has captured) or a "married" hole, the move ends ("sleeps").

If the last seed finished in an empty hole on the player's own side and the opposite hole was occupied, the player captures ("eats") all the seeds in opponent's holes that correspond to empty holes on his own side. The captures are put into the player's store.

When the last seed falls into an opponent's hole containing just one seed, he "marries" the hole. The move stops and the hole is marked by him. Every stone dropped during a sowing into this hole, is owned by the player who married it.

Passing is not permitted.

The game ends as soon as a player has captured the majority of seeds (including those in holes he had married) or when a player has nothing to move at the start of his turn.

The game is won by the player who has got more than 24 seeds or whose opponent is unable to move at their turn.

Usually a match of five games is played (among the Luhya: six games or as many as would enable one player to win six times) and the games a player has won are counted with a dice kept in his store.

Another way to count the games is to award points: a player gets two points, if he won the game either because he captured more than 24 seeds or his opponent had no seeds left, four points if his opponent hadn't captured anything. The first player to achieve 12 points wins the match.


The rules given in this article mostly follow Natalie Baker's report (2006). Ambiguities have been resolved by asking a native player from Kenya.

External Links[]


Baker, N.
Tweed Kenya Mentoring Program Volunteer Visit Report. Tweed Shire Council, Murwillumbah NSW (Australia) 2006.
Odhiambo, N.
Where Youth Converge With Sages Over A Game For Knowledge Transfer. In: Reject 2011 (Issue 050); November 1-15, 13.
Odhoji, B. M. O.
Modelling The Body as a Figurative Code in Luo Popular Culture, Vernacular Literature, and Systems of Thought. In: Postcolonial Text 2009; 5 (3): 1-17.
Odongo Ogembo, J. E.
The Ajua Game: Signs, Symbols and Aethetics. In: Maseno Journal of Education, Arts and Science 2000; 3 (1).
Ogoye-Ndegwa, C.
A Traditional Game as an Agent in HIV/AIDS Behaviour-change Education and Communication. In: African Journal of AIDS Research 2005; 4 (2): 91-98.
Osogo, J. B.
Life in Kenya in the Olden Days: The Baluyia. Oxford University Press, Nairobi (Kenya) 1965, 3.


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