Mancala World

Chisolo I → Italian.

Other Names: Natatu
First Description: Edwin William
Smith & Andrew Murray Dale,
Cycles: One
Ranks: Four
Sowing: Multiple laps
Region: Zambia

Chisolo I, also called Natatu ("the one of three") , is a "chisolo" (mancala game) of the Ila people in Zambia. It was first described by Rev. Edwin W. Smith and Captain Andrew Murray Dale in their book “The Ila-Speaking Peoples of Northern Rhodesia”.

The Ila, a sub-group of the Tonga, number about 71,200 people (as of 2006) and are a Bantu-speaking people inhabiting an area west of Lusaka, the national capital of Zambia.

The name of their game is related to "Isolo" and is a variant spelling of "Kisolo" (or "Cisolo") used in Zaire for a rather different mancala game.

Chisolo is a popular game played by adult men and sometimes by adolescent boys and men together, which - according to Smith and Dale - is "evidently a case of teaching the young how to shoot".

An old Ila myth tells that man defeats God at an Chisolo game and by implication brings about his own mortality.

Smith and Dale gave a game, which took only 20 moves, but reported that another one they recorded was not complete until the 116th move. They didn't mention the rules for singletons given below, but singletons were never moved in their example game, although it would have made sense, and these rules seem to be universal for closely related games played in the south of Africa such as Moruba, Nsolo, and Mefuvha.


Chisolo I is played on a board with four rows with 7 - 10 holes per row. The holes of the outer rows contain three small stones. The two rightmost holes of a player's inner row remain empty. The adjacent hole contains one stone, the next one two stones and the remaining holes three stones. The process of setting-up is called "kushanga" ("planting").


Initial Position (Smallest Board)

On his turn a player takes the contents of one of his holes, which must contain at least two stones ("lubwe"), and sows them, one by one, into consecutive holes on his own side.

The opening move is called "kubingula" ("to do the first one"), subsequent moves "kuteka" ("to draw water").

The first player sows clockwise, while the second player chooses a direction in his first turn, which he must then maintain throughout the game.

If the last stone falls into a non-empty hole, its contents are distributed in another lap in the same direction. Such a multi-lap move is called "kusuntula" ("to lift up").

The move ends when the last stone is dropped into an empty hole.

If the last stone falls into an empty hole of the inner row and the opposite hole of his opponent's inner row has got stones, these enemy stones and, in addition, any stones in the opponent's hole of the same file in the outer row are captured ("kudya" = "to eat"). The captured stones are removed from the board. The player is then entitled to capture the contents of any one other enemy hole ("kusuwa" = "to snatch").

When a player has only singletons, he is permitted to move them, but only in empty holes.

The player who has still stones at the end of the game wins: "wamwanga" ("he ties him up"). It is a draw, when the board position repeats without anything being captured.

Smith and Dale mentioned that a game can be lengthened by one or both players: "kuisha balumbu" ("passing in foreigners"). They wrote: "When one is getting beaten he has the privilege of adding six or seven fresh stones to his depleted holes and continuing the game. His opponent may elect to do the same. But unless he does, the other may not enjoy the privilege in two successive games".


Bell, R. C.
Board and Table Games from Many Civilizations. Oxford University Press, Oxford (England) 1969, 123-124 (Volume II).
Bertaggia, A.
Il Chisolo. In: Il Fogliaccio degli Astratti 2012; 9 (58): 63-64.
Chaplin, J. H. 
A Note on Mancala Games in Northern Rhodesia. In: Man: Monthly Record of Anthropological Science 1956; 56 (December): 168-170.
Murray, H. J. R.
A History of Board-Games Other Than Chess. Oxford University Press, Oxford (England) 1952, 210.
Smith, E. W. & Dale, A. M.
The Ila-speaking Peoples of Northern Rhodesia. Macmillan and Co., London (England) 1920, 237.
Townshend, P.
Les Jeux de Mancala au Zaïre, au Ruanda et au Burundi. In: Les Cahiers de CEDAF – ASDOC Studies. Institut Africain–CEDAF / Africa Instituut-ASDOC, Tervuren (Belgium) 1977 (3): 100-102.
Wrigley, C.
Kingship and State: The Buganda Dynasty. Cambridge University Press, New York NY (USA) 1996, 100-102.


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