Mancala World
Bao la Kete
Other Names: Bao la
Komwe, Kombe
First Description: Walter
Driedger, 1972
Cycles: Two
Ranks: Four
Sowing: Multiple laps
Region: Kenya

Bao la Kete (Swahili: board for mancala stones), also known as Bao la Komwe or Kombe, is a close variant of Zanzibarian Bao played in the Lamu Archipelago, off the northern coast of Kenya. Its occurrence on Lamu was first mentioned by Walter Driedger in 1972 and the local rules were given by Alan W. Boyd in 1979. "Bao" is a generic expression and Bao la Kete is used to distinguish this mancala game from other board games popular on Lamu such as Bao la Dama ("Draughts") and Bao la Dumna ("Chess"). The game is mostly played by men, who ofen meet in the open square in front of Lamu's fort to have tournaments under the shade of casuarina trees. The players of Lamu are famous for their speed and talent.

The ornately carved Bao boards have become a local art form, which is sold to many tourists.

"Bao is normally played in public only by men, though it is said that some women play in the home. At present in most Swahili towns there are special sites set aside for bao play, often open-sided huts. In Lamu and Pate it used to be played in the porches of houses by neighbours, friends and relatives. At some sites play is only in the late afternoon; at others it goes on all day with a break at least for Magharibi prayers."

Philip Townshend (1982)


The Lamu rules are similar to Zanzibarian Bao except for a few differences.

Nemo stage

On Lamu, the namu stage is called nemo and the nyumba is known as kuu.

  • A kuu can never have less than six seeds. If, in takata, the player's only occupied hole of his front row is a kuu with six seeds, although it had more before, a seed is added to its contents, which are thereafter emptied and sown in either direction, thus destroying the 'kuu forever.

Mtaji stage

On Lamu, takasia is called hizi zetu.

  • The first takata move must start with a kuu, if it still exists.
  • The contents of a hole, which were reserved by hizi setu must be captured, even if the contents of other holes have also become menaced.

Match rules

Usually a match of up to three games is played, which ends as soon as a player has won two games.


Boyd, A. W.
The Game of Bao - Lamu Style. In: MILA 1977 (1979); 6 (1): 81-89.
Driedger, W.
The Game of Bao or Mancala in East Africa. In: MILA (Institute of African Studies, University of Nairobi) 1972 (1): 3.
Townshend, P.
Anthropological Perspectives on Bao (Mankala) Games. In: Institute of African Studies Paper. University of Nairobi, Nairobi (Kenya) 1979; Paper 114.
Townshend, P.
Bao (Mankala): The Swahili Ethic in African Idiom. In: Paideuma 1982; 28: 175-191.
Townshend, P.
Games in Culture: A Contextual Analysis of the Swahili Board Game and Its Relevance to Variation in African Mankala. Ph.D.-thesis. University of Cambridge (England) 1986.


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