Mancala World
First Description: Richard
Pankhurst, 1971
Cycles: One
Ranks: Two
Sowing: Multiple laps
Region: Ethiopia, Kenya

Bulto ("a place where you spend the night") is a mancala game of the Borana (also called Boran), a sub-group of the Oromo, in southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya. The Borana are cattle drovers and peasants. They number about 300,000 people.

Bulto is a pastime of the elders and sometimes by youngsters, but never of women. According to Pankhurst "(the game) is played in the open air in daytime, the players usually lying on the ground beside the board, though sometimes seated on small seats."


The mancala board for Bulto is called gombo sadéqa ("game trough") and consists of two rows, each one with 10 holes known as mona ("cattle enclosure"). Each player controls the row closest to him.

Every hole contains at the start two stones called medan sadéqa.


Initial Position

The first turn (known as menager) creates 13 holes, which contain three stones. These holes are called miné as long as their contents weren't sown or a stone fell into them.

On his turn a player sows the contents of one of his holes, which isn't a bulto (see below) counterclockwise, one at a time, into the ensuing holes.

If the last counter is dropped into a non-empty hole, which isn't a bulto, its contents are distributed in another lap.

Bulto owned by the opponent are skipped.

When there are no miné left (i.e. their contents have either been sown or they contain now four or more counters), holes belonging to the opponent that can be turned into bulto (see below) must be skipped, unless they are actually turned into a bulto. After all miné have been destroyed, it is also no longer permitted to start a turn from a hole containing three stones, unless all the holes available have three counters.

If the last stone is dropped into an opponent's hole, which contains three counters, but is not a miné, it becomes a bulto.

A player can create more bulto later, but they must be to the right of (i.e. clockwise to) the previous bulto.

A player may refuse to make a bulto, skipping the hole and then putting the last stone into the next hole.

It is possible to create multiple bulto in one move after there are no miné left, if the last two or more stones are alighted on a corresponding number of adjacent holes, each containing three counters, on the opponent's row.

The move ends, when the last stone falls into an empty hole or a bulto belonging to the player.

The game ends, when a player cannot move.

Each player counts the number of stones, which have been accumulated in his bulto and those in his row, which are not in a bulto belonging to his opponent.

The player who has more stones wins. If both players have the same number, the game is a draw.

Sometimes a few stones continue to circle around the board without being captured. Pankhurst didn't give a rule, but in similar situations, which arise in other mancala games these stones are awarded to player who owns their respective holes.


Sadeqa warana.jpg

Middle Game: How can North create a bulto?

External Links


Pankhurst, R.
Gabata and Related Board Games of Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. In: Ethiopia Observer 1971; 14 (3): 195-197.


7! - if South responds with 1 to prevent a bulto there, North makes a bulto at 2 with 10.


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