Mancala World

Bao la Kiswahili → Italian, Spanish.

Bao la Kiswahili
Other Names: Bao, Bao la Kucheza, Bao la Kete,
Bao la Komwe, Bao la Mtaji, Bao la Zanzibar, Ba-
wo, Busolo, Katra-Be, Kombe, Lusole, Mchezo wa
Bao, Morahha, Mraha Wa Tso
First Description: Étienne de Flacourt, 1658
Cycles: Two
Ranks: Four
Sowing: Multiple laps
Region: Burundi, Comores, D. R. of the Congo,
Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Tanzania

Bao (Swahili for: "board") is a mancala game played in Swahili and Bajun communities in eastern Africa, e.g. Zanzibar, coastal Tanzania and Kenya, and the Comores. The game is also known by the Sakalava in northwestern Madagascar. Nowadays, it has also arrived in the Swahili hinterland, where several Muslim people have adopted the game. The Yao in Malawi changed its original name to Bawo. Bao is also played by the Bangubangu in Kisangani, D. R. of the Congo, and the game was also reported from Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi.

"Fifangha", a precursor of modern Bao, was first described by the French traveller Flacourt in 1658 who saw it among the Sakalava in the north-west of Madagascar. Thomas Hyde found it 1694 on Anjouan, Comores. The Bao poem "Bao Naligwa" was written in the 1820s by the Swahili poet Muyaka bin Haji in Mombasa, Kenya. The oldest still surviving Bao board was made in 1896 in Malawi and is kept today in the British Museum in London. It is said that Bao was the favorite pastime of Julius Kambarage Nyerere (1922-1999), the first President of Tanzania, and that he learnt the strategies to fight the British occupation forces by playing the game. On April 7, 1972, Sheikh Abeid Amani Karume (1905-1972), the first President of Zanzibar, was shot dead by four gunmen as he played Bao at the headquarters of the Afro-Shirazi party.

Nyerere bao butiama

President Julius Nyerere playing Bao

In 1966, the Chama Cha Bao ("Bao Society") was formed in Tanzania to promote the game. On Zanzibar, there are about 16 Bao clubs and about 10 masters who are called fundi ("artist") or bingwa ("master"). The strongest players are Abdulrahim Muhiddin Foum, Masoud Hassan Ali (known as "Kijumbe") and Ali Maulid Hussein ("Maulidi"). In Europe, Bao was first promoted by the British ethnologue Philip Townshend in the 1970s, then by the Dutch psychologist Alexander Johan de Voogt who attempted in his Ph.D. dissertation (1995) to characterize Bao mastership. Nino Vessella, an Italian Esperantist started in 2007 KIBA - Klubo Internacia de Bao-Amantoj to promote Bao in Europe. The Nederlands Baogenootschap (NBG) was started in 2009. In Tanzania, Chama cha Michezo ya Jadi cha Dar es Salaam (CHAMIJADA), an association that aims at reviving traditional, indigenous sports played a major role in rekindle interest in Bao as a tournament game. In 2010, their secretary Monday Likwepa formed Shirikisho la Mchezo wa Bao Tanzania (SHIMBATA) to organize international tournaments in Tanzania.

Regular championships are held on Zanzibar and the Tanzanian mainland, Kenya (Lamu) and in Malawi. In Europe, tournaments were organized in England (Cambridge), Italy (Rome, Senigallia, Turin) and the Netherlands (Berg en Dal, Den Haag, Leiden, Nijmegen, Wageningen). Every year, there is an international tournament, which functions as the European Championship. Strong players also live in Switzerland. An international tournament was held in La Tour de Peilz in November 2012.

Bao players in stone town zanzibar

Bao Players in Stone Town, Zanzibar

The rules of Bao Kiswahili are considered to be the most difficult and complex to learn of all mancala games.

Bao Literature

Bao Naligwa

Nalipohiteza Bao, Bao la mti haiba,
Nali hiishika ngao katikati hajishiba;
Nikiteza kwa vituo hafunga kwa namu haba
Ndipo nambapo "shurba" oani bao naligwa!

Mtaji nalohiuta nalihiuta hashiba
Nami nikaziokota hafa hajaza kibaba
Baole likatakata msi namu ya akiba
Ndipo nambapo "shurba" oani bao naligwa!


When I played a game of Bao, board of wood well-decorated
A strong defense I did allow in the center saturated;
Now seeds were sown into a row which in few turns devastated
I said 'Shurba' when I played it, look at the Bao game I've won!

When I played this one mtaji, I played it satisfactor'ly
Until the seeds picked up by me filled up the cup entirely
It swept the board then clear and free, no seeds in store were left to be
I said 'Shurba' accordingly, look at the Bao game I've won!

Muyaka bin Haji, Tanzania

A Game of Bawo

Take your cue from a game of Bawo
where sides at the edge of doom
are best conceded as losses
and easy withdrawal
leads to stunning victories

Springs hot and cold, dry up;
flowers bloom and fade
and trees at times shed their leaves and their barks
neither recall the bloom
nor visit springs that once gushed waters -
memories are sweetest unruffled by daylight and
forced ceremonies stink worst than rudeness

This meticulous insouciance
these decoys made in heaven
follow a standard design
with familiar specifications

Take you cue from a game of Bawo;
neither recall the bloom of flowers
nor the showers of spring.

Felix Mnthali, Malawi

A Bao Song from Kizingitini, Kenya

Kulla mvuvi pweza
Madirikano mwambani
Kulla mchezi wa bao
Madirikano baoni.


All the fishers of octopus
Their meeting place is the rock,
All the players of Bao
Their meeting place is the board.


Bao board table

Bao Table

The Bao board consists of four rows, each one with eight holes. The holes are rounded except the fourth from the right in the central rows, which is square in shape and called nyumba ("house"). A nyumba ceases temporarily to be a functional nyumba, when it has less than six seeds, and ultimately, when its contents have been captured or moved in a lap. In the rules given below, a nyumba is always meant to be a "functional nyumba". The ultimate holes at either end of the inner rows are called kichwa ("head") and both, the ultimate and the penultimate holes are known as kimbi (according to P. Townshend this word could be derived from kimbia = "very fast").


Initial Position

The position at the start of the game is shown in the diagram. In addition, each player has 22 seeds in reserve.

The game is played in turns.

There is an initial phase with special rules, called namu, in which seeds are introduced into play, and the main stage called mtaji, which starts after the move that put the last seed on the board.

Bao la Kiswahili is a game with multilap sowing. Each player only sows around his own two rows.

Moves can be with or without capturing. Non-capturing moves are also known as takata. Captures are mandatory. A prerequisite for making a capture is to have at least two occupied holes facing each other in the players' front rows. Any such position results in a capture during the namu stage, but in the mtaji stage the last seed of the first lap must fell into an occupied hole in opposition to really effect a capture. Only the contents of the opponent's front row can be captured while those in his back row are safe. In addition, the following general rules must be abided by all the times:

  • If the first lap of a move doesn't capture, nothing will be captured in the full move. On the other hand, if the first lap captures, multiple captures can follow, even if they will be interrupted by non-capturing laps.
  • If 16 or more seeds are sown in the first lap, nothing will be captured. Note that this rule only applies to the second stage because a move always starts with a single seed in the first stage.

Namu Stage

Non-capturing moves

If it is not possible to make a capture, the player takes a seed from his reserve and puts it into a non-empty hole in his front row:

  • If the player has a nyumba, he is not permitted to put the seed into it, unless it is the only occupied hole in his front row.
  • If the player has no nyumba, he can only add the seed to a hole, which contains at least two seeds, unless all non-empty holes in the front row are singletons.

After that the player picks all the seeds from this hole and sows them into consecutive holes in either direction, clockwise or anticlockwise.

  • If, however, the seed is put into a nyumba, he takes just two seeds from it and sows them in either direction.

If the last seed is sown into a non-empty hole, but not a nyumba, its contents are taken and the sowing continues until the last seed falls in an empty hole, which also ends the turn.

  • If, however, the lap ends in the nyumba, the move is not continued and the turn is over without delay.

Capturing moves

After the player has put a seed into a hole, which effects a capture, he takes the contents of the opponent's inner hole opposite to it and sows them towards the center of his inner row starting in a kichwa:

  • If he has captured from a kimbi, he must start in the kichwa of the same side (left or right).
  • If he has captured from the four central holes, he may choose the kichwa.

He continues in laps as in takata unless the last seed is dropped into an occupied hole of his inner row and the opponent's hole opposite is not empty either, which results in another capture:

  • The captured seeds must now be sown towards the center from the kichwa, which is in the direction from where he arrived (so that the direction of sowing remains unaltered) unless he captured from a kimbi of the other end of the row. Then he starts from the kichwa of this side and the direction of sowing is reversed.
  • If, however, the player ends a lap in his nyumba, he can either choose to stop sowing or he may continue (called safari), which would destroy the nyumba forever.

Mtaji Stage

Non-capturing moves

If the player has no reserve seeds left and cannot capture, he may choose any hole of his front row (including the nyumba), which contains more than one seed, and then sows its contents in either direction:

  • If there are only singletons in the front row, he may take a hole in his back row, but no singletons. The move keeps on going with multiple laps until the last seed is dropped into an empty hole.
  • The front row may never be emptied, not even temporarily. If the only occupied hole of the front row is a kichwa and it contains two or more seeds, they must be sown towards the center of the front row.

Capturing moves

A capture can be effected starting from any hole in either row with at least two seeds. The captured seeds are sown in a new lap towards the center from the kichwa, which is in the direction from where he came (so that the direction of sowing remains unaltered) unless he captured from a kimbi of the other end of the row. Then he starts from this side and the direction of sowing is reversed. He continues in laps until the last seed falls into an empty hole. In contrast to the namu stage, the player must safari (continue to sow), if the sowing ends in the nyumba.


There is a special rule in the mtaji stage called takasia (or: takatia), which is only needed in very few games:

  • If after a takata move the contents of only one opponent's hole are under threat of being captured, but not one of the player's own holes is menaced (that is, the opponent must also takata), this hole is "takasiaed". The opponent cannot start his turn from it nor would a move be continued, if a lap ends in it unless it has been reached in the first lap from a nyumba. However, a nyumba itself cannot be takasiaed. Nor can a hole that is the only occupied one or the only one containing more than one seed in the player's front row.

Goal and End of the Game

The player wins either by "Bao hamna", that is capturing all seeds of the opponent's front row, or by leaving his opponent just singletons, so that he isn't able to move.


To count the seeds at the beginning players usually put all the seeds in their pits in one of the following ways:


Then they remove the 20 seeds from the back row and the two seeds from the rightmost hole of the inner row.

Bao Puzzles

Note: The notation of the moves is explained here.

Problem 1


A very simple problem in the Mtaji stage: South to move and win!

Problem 2


North to play and win! Find the shortest solution. It is assumed that South plays the best defense.

Problem 3


South plays A3L. What happens?

This board position was reached after playing 1. A6L* a6R; 2. A4R a6R; 3. A5L a3R; 4. A8> a8; 5. A4Ra4L ; 6. A8 a7; 7. A1 a4R; 8. A6R a4L; 9. A2 a4L; 10.A4L a4L; 11. A7 a4L.

See also

External Links


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Solutions to the Puzzles

Problem 1

1. B2L Bao hamna!

Problem 2

1. a4R A4L* (A)
2. b3R B4R (forced)
3. b2R = Bao hamna!

If A: 1.... A4R, then
2. b2r = Bao hamna!

Problem 3

A never-ending move with period 218. This position was first given by Bao expert Alexander J. de Voogt in 2006.


© Wikimanqala.
Introduction by: Víktor Bautista i Roca & Ralf Gering.
Under the CC by-sa 2.5.

© Wikinfo.
References by: Ralf Gering.
Under the CC by-sa 2.5.

© Mancala World.
Rules and puzzles by: Ralf Gering.
Under the CC by-sa 2.5.