Mancala World

Giuthi → Italian.

Other Names: Ciuthi,
Giuthi kia ndongu, Uthi
First Description: Orde
Brown, 1925
Cycles: One
Ranks: Two
Sowing: Multiple laps
Region: Kenya

Giuthi ("to place", "to distribute") is a mancala game of the Kikuyu and the Embu in Kenya. It was a popular pastime of young boys and men when they were herding cattle or goats. The game is almost forgotten today. There were special terms for certain moves and various holes, but no one seems to remember them now.

The board was usually dug into the ground. The game was played with small pebbles, the seeds of the mubuthi tree (Caesalpinia volkensii) or sodom apples (the berries of Solanum incanum) known by the southern Kikuyu as ndongu.

Giuthi was first described in 1925 by the English ethnologue Orde Brown in his book The Vanishing Tribes of Kenya.

Giuthi Proverb

"You can't steal the cattle of another man without entering his land!"


Giuthi is played on two-rank boards numbering from five to ten holes per row.

The number of stones in each pit varies from four to nine. Four is preferred on the smallest boards, six on the medium-sized ones and eight on the larger boards. Nine stones per hole on a two-by-ten board gives the first player a big advantage and could therefore be regarded as a handicap when two players of unequal strength are playing against each other.


Initial Position (most challenging set-up)

Each turn starts with a hole that contains at least two seeds.

The seeds are either distributed in the clockwise or the counterclockwise direction into the succeeding holes in the first lap of a move.

If the last seed falls into a non-empty hole, its contents (including the last seed) are distributed in another lap in the opposite direction.

If the last seeds falls into an empty hole of your own side, the player moves again, unless he has placed at least one seed into an enemy hole during this move.

If the last seeds falls in one of your empty holes and you have played into the opponent's territory (see proverb (bottom)), then you capture the seeds in the enemy hole just across and the last seed that was distributed.

If this empty hole is followed in an unbroken chain by more empty holes on your side, then the seeds in the opposite holes are also captured.

When the last seed falls into an empty hole of your opponent, the turn is over.

A player must move if he can. He must pass, if he has only singletons, but must continue to move, if he has a hole with more than one seed again.

The game may end:

  • when nobody has a legal move
  • when the board position repeats

Each player scores as many points as he has captured seeds and as he has seeds in his holes at the end of the game.

The player who has got more points wins the game.


The following board sizes were recorded by ethnologues:

  • 2 x 5 holes. Number of seeds not given.
  • 2 x 6 holes with 4 or 6 seeds per hole. For beginners.
  • 2 x 7 holes with 6 seeds per hole. According to Driedger a typical starting arrangement among the Kikuyu.
  • 2 x 8 holes with 4 or 8 seeds per hole. Said to be the most popular variant when played on a casual basis.
  • 2 x 10 holes with 9 seeds per hole. Quite unbalanced - the first player can capture 10 seeds in the first turn without being threatened in the next.

Giuthi puzzles

Problem 1


North to move and draw!

Problem 2


North leads by 20 points. South to move and win!


"The game of Giuthi involves such complicated feats of mental arithmetic that few Europeans can play it."

Elspeth Huxley in her novel Red Strangers (1939)

"They played a game called "giuthi" which consists of moving combinations of small objects back and forth among a series of holes. Later, I tried to introduce this game into England and was told that it was so complicated and required such elaborate computation that no one but a mathematical genius could play it. Among the Kikuyu, even children play it."

John A. Hunter in his autobiography Tales of the African Frontier (1954)

See also


Botermans, J., Burrett, T., van Delft, P. & van Splunteren, C. 
The World of Games. Facts on File, New York (USA) & Oxford (UK) 1989, 174-179.
Deledicq, A. & Popova, A. 
Wari et Solo: Le Jeu de Calcul Africain. Cedic, Paris (France) 1977.
Driedger, W. 
The Game of Bao or Mancala in East Africa. In: MILA (Institute of African Studies, University of Nairobi) 1972 (1): 3.
Hunter, J. A.
Tales of the African Frontier. Harper and Brothers, New York NY (USA) 1954, 289.
Huxley, E. J. G.
Red Strangers: A Story of Kenya. Chatto & Windus, London (England) 1939, 181.
Leakey, L. S. B. 
White African. London (England) 1937, 165-173.
Leakey, L. S. B. 
The Southern Kikuyu Before 1903. London (England) 1937 / 1977 (Volume II), 573-576.
Orde Browne, G. St J. G. 
The Vanishing Tribes of Kenya: A Description of the Manners & Customs of the Primitive & Interesting Tribes Dwelling on the Vast Southern Slopes of Mount Kenya & Their Fast Disappearing Native Methods of Life. Seeley, Service & Co., London (UK) 1925, 125-128.
Popova, A. 
Les Mancala Africains. In : Cahiers d'Études Africaines 1976; 16 (3-4): 446-447.
Rohrbough, L. (Ed.). 
Count and Capture. Cooperative Recreation Service, Delaware OH (USA) 1955.
Russ, L. 
The Complete Mancala Games Book: How to Play the Worlds Oldest Board Games. Marlowe & Company, New York (USA) 2000, 37-41.
Zaslavsky, C. 
Africa Counts: Number and Pattern in African Culture. Prindle, Weber & Schmidt, Boston (USA) 1974, 121-122.


Problem 1

1. 10A9A8A7A6A5A4A3A2A(x54)1C

Note: A means "anticlockwise; C "clockwise.

Problem 2

1. 5A8C10C9C2A4A7C6C(x22)8C6A - then each player gets half of the remaining seeds (=9)


© Wikimanqala.
By: Ralf Gering.
Under the CC by-sa 2.5.