Mancala World

Board → Portuguese.

A mancala board is used for playing mancala games. The oldest board was excavated in Abu Sha'ar, a late Roman legionary fortress on the Red Sea coast, Egypt, which is from the 4th century AD. A fragment of a pottery board in Aksumite Ethiopia in Matara (now in Eritrea) is dated by archaeologists as of between the 6th and 7th century AD. Often these artifacts are all what remains of a game after its rules have been forgotten, which is true not only for the early Ethiopian boards, but also for gameboards found in Andalusia and Germany (Castle Weikersheim).

Mancala boards are made of a wide range of materials such as wood, stone, clay, metal, ivory, palm ribs, plastic, cardboard, and even dried cowdung. According to the boardgame researcher de Voogt, the choice largely depends on cost, aesthetic considerations, ritual implications or practical issues such as portability and the material’s availability. In pastoral or nomadic societies, boards are often just dig into the earth. In Zambian villages, large boards are communally used in meeting houses. The more elaborate and colourful boards are prestige objects not only in indigenous societies, but also in the west, where they can be seen in ethnographic collections. The largest collection is in the British Museum (London), which has 119 boards. Other important collections are in the Musée du Quai Branly (Paris - over 40 boards) and in the American Museum of Natural History (New York - at least 25 boards).

A mancala board is composed of rows of holes and sometimes stores. Its simple design has led researchers to assume a much older age of the game than it could be proved by archaeological findings.

The aethetic qualities of mancala boards were discussed by Alexander Johan de Voogt and Roslyn A. Walker. In this context, de Voogt pointed to the life cycle of wooden boards, which change as they are smoothened by endless play, the holes widened, the surface scarred until they disintegrate.

See also

External Links


Bell, R. C.
A Mancala Board from Senegal. In: Games & Puzzles 1995; 13: 12.
Voogt, A. J. de
Changing Objects: Aesthetic Qualities of Mancala Boards. In: Museum Anthropology 1996; 20 (3): 150-153.
Voogt, A. J. de
Mancala Board Games. British Museum Press London (England) 1997.
Günther, B.
Mancala, Wari, Awélé - ein Brettspiel aus Ghana (Seminararbeit). Institut für Vergleichende Kulturforschung / Fachgebiet Völkerkunde, Philipps-Universität Marburg, Marburg (Germany) 2003.
Mulvin, L. & Sidebotham, S. E.
Roman Game Boards from Abu Sha'ar (Red Sea Coast, Egypt). In: Antiquity 2004; 78 (301): 602–6.
Walker, R. A.
A Sculptured Mancala Gameboard Terminating in a Carved Human Head from Liberia in the Barbier-Mueller Museum. In: Bulletin Association des Amis du Musée Barbier-Mueller 1986; 32 : 1-6.
Walker, R. A.
Mancala Game Boards as African Emblems of Status. In: Finkel, E. Ancient Board Games in Perspective. British Museum Press, London (UK) 2006.
Walker, R. A.
Sculptured Mancala Gameboards of Sub-Saharan Africa (Ph.D. Thesis) . Indiana University, Bloomington IN (USA) 1990.



Adapted from the Wikinfo article, "Mancala board", used under the GNU Free Documentation License.