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

Dabuda is a mancala game played by the Afar, a people living mainly in the Afar Region of Ethiopia as well as northern Djibouti and at a smaller scale in the southern point of Eritrea. Most Afars are nomadic pastoralists, raising goats, sheep, and cattle in the desert. Their total population is estimated to be over 5,000,000.

The game is played by both men and boys. It was first described by Richard Pankhurst in 1971 as Dabuda I (long board) and Dabuda II (short board).

He wrote that these games besides being a common pastime and an exercise to sharpen the wits were played in several distinct circumstances:

(1) Before going to war two Afar men, one symbolising the Afar cause and the other personifying an Issa Somali or other enemy , would play together, and three consecutive victories by either player would be taken as an augury for the outcome of the forthcoming armed struggle.
(2) Before an expedition rival Afar warriors might likewise play between themselves to obtain an augury as to who would be the more successful in defeating the enemy, capturing prisoners and so forth.
(3) When two Afars, perhaps even chiefs, disliked each other, and they would find in it a convenient opportunity for veiled insults and recriminations.

Wealthy players used wooden boards, while children just dug holes in the ground.


The Dabuda board has two rows, each one with 10 holes ("bodo").

At the start of the game, there are four stones ("da") in every hole.


Initial Position ("Dabuda I")

On his turn, a player sows the contents of any of his holes, one by one, counterclockwise into ensuing holes.

  • It is only permitted to sow the contents of those holes whose last counter would fall into an empty hole or into a hole on the opponent's side.

If the last stone falls into an occupied hole, its contents are lifted for another lap, which continues until the last stone is dropped into an empty hole.

If the last stone falls into an empty hole in the own row and the opposite hole is occupied, the contents of the opponent's hole are captured.

Captures are removed from the board and stored.

The game ends, when a player is unable to move.

His opponent captures the stones, which are still on the board.

The player who has captured most stones wins.

It is reported that a victorious player who could fill three or more opponent's holes with his captures has gained a particularly notable triumph and might say: "Farasal kokaysé!" (literally: "I beat you by a horse!")


"Dabuda II"

Sometimes Dabuda (called Dabuda II by Pankhurst) is played by youngsters seeking a quicker game on a 2x6 board. Otherwise the rules are identical.


Pankhurst, R.
Gabata and Related Board Games of Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. In: Ethiopia Observer 1971; 14 (3): 179-180.


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