Mancala World

Enkeshui → Italian, Portuguese.

First Description: Walter
Driedger, 1972
Cycles: One
Ranks: Two
Sowing: Multiple laps
Region: Kenya

Enkeshui is a mancala game common among the Maasai in south-central Kenya. The game was first described by Walter Driedger who observed it around the towns of Amboseli, Narok and Ngong.

Women are not permitted to play Enkeshui. The rows of the board contain always an even number of holes. Even numbers have female connotations among the Maasai and according to Driedger this might “subconsciously be related to the symbolism of placing seeds in pits” . The number of counters is usually 48, a number, which is considered to be ritually propitious.

Numerous cow metaphors are also found in the game: an individual seed is called a “cow”, a cup is a boma (cattle coral or kraal), and an acquired accumulation hole is known as a “bull”.

Driedger wrote about the social setting, which surrounds the game:

“The most interesting thing about enkeshui is not the rules themselves but how the game is played. As with all things Maasai, it is generally a group effort with decisions made according to principles of egalitarianism and consensus. Each side consists of a ‘floating’ team of up to five players. This requires some explanation! Players may join in a game already in progress and may leave during the middle of a game they have started. One difficulty in learning is that once one has started a game, others will join in and eventually take over if, in their eyes, one’s own playing is not sufficiently competent. A team member may suggest a move by making a trial move which will either be allowed to stand or will be retracted and replaced by another move. Since this is occurring on both sides of the board, considerable confusion results. Cheating is common and often attempted. If it is detected by a member of the opposing team, he simply retracts the move. This may even give the impression that someone is playing on the wrong side of the board. A move may also be retracted if it is put forward by someone not sufficiently high ranking to participate other than as a spectator.”


The board consists of two rows of 8, 10 or 12 holes (boma). There are 48 counters, traditionally stone pebbles, but today also beads made of cast aluminium, glass or carved plastic (isoito le enkeshui). The counters are kept in leather bags (olbene loo-inkeek).

Depending on the size of the board different set-ups are used:


A popular set-up on a two-by-twelve board.


A starting position on a two-by-eight board.


Another set-up on the small board

On his turn a player empties the contents of one of his holes, which is not a “bull” (see below), and sows one stone in each of the following holes in a counterclockwise direction. If the last stone falls in an occupied hole, the player takes its contents, including the last dropped stone, and continues to distribute the stones in a counterclockwise direction. After a player has gone completely around his opponent’s side of the board, he is allowed to continue the next lap in either direction.

If the last stone falls into an empty hole, the move is over and the player “sleeps”.

If the last stone in hand falls into a hole, which contains three stones, thus making a four, the hole is turned into a “bull”. It is also possible to form a pair of “bulls” if the last two stones make a three and four in either order in adjacent holes. A “bull” can be made on either side of the board, but not in the first move of either player. Any stone, which is dropped into a “bull”, is owned by the player who once had created it. When the last stone in hand falls into a “bull”, the move ends and the player “sleeps”.

If the last stone in hand falls into an empty hole of the player’s own row, he captures all contents of the opposite hole together with the last dropped stone. If the opposite hole is empty, nothing is captured. A capture ends the move and the player “sleeps”.

If the following holes on the player’s side of the board are empty, he also captures the contents of the opposite holes as long as the empty holes form a continuous string and the holes opposite to them are occupied.

The game is over when a player, at his turn, has nothing left in his holes to play with. Then the remaining stones that are not in “bulls” are owned by the player in whose row they are.

The player who has caught more stones including those in his “bulls” wins the game.If both players have captured 24 stones, the game is a draw.


There are two ways to play matches:

  • The surplus of stones gained by the winner is removed from the game, while the player with the deficit must continue without them. The loser starts to fill his holes from his right side and must leave some holes on his left side with less stones than usual or even with no stones. A player who has not enough stones to fill even his hole farthest to the right with the standard number has lost the match..
  • It can also be agreed that a certain number of games is played with the standard set-up. Then a record of wins and losses is kept with small sticks called inkeek e-nkeshui.


In some regions player make the first move simultaneously, starting from the far right-hand hole and sowing as fast as possible. The player who reaches an empty hole first or the one who goes farthest, makes the first move of the regular game.

Sometimes players may rearrange the initial position by taking the counters of any two holes and then redeploying them on their side in any way they want.

External Links


Driedger, W.
The Game of Bao or Mancala in East Africa. In: MILA (Institute of African Studies, University of Nairobi) 1972; 3 (1): 7-20.


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