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

Hesa is played by the Dorzé people in Ethiopia. It is exclusively played by males

The Dorze are a small ethnic group in Ethiopia who speak a language in the Omotic family. Numbering approximately 28,000, they live primarily in the south of the country, though some have migrated to Addis Ababa and other regions.

Hesa was first described by Richard Pankhurst in 1971 as Hesa II (game 55a).

Judy Olmstead:

"The boards are not owned by individuals, but kept in houses by the public meeting meadows. (...) It is considered not in good form for young unmarried men to play, although in fact they do. Old men especially play - little boys may as favour play with the [wooden] board after the men, but usually use holes in the ground."


The board ("saqiqa") has 3x6 holes ("hola"). Initially there are three seeds (known as "lami" or "sadiqa mara") in each hole. Each player owns the row closest to him and the three holes of the central row at his right hand.


Initial Position

Each move starts with a player picking up the contents of one of his holes that doesn't contain three seeds or is a "gélo" (see below) and sowing them, one by one, into the following holes.

Direction of Sowing

If the last seed falls into an occupied hole, the player takes up its contents and distributes these seeds in a new lap. Let's suppose you start the move in your left corner: the seeds are first distributed in your own back row from left to right, then in your central holes from right to left, afterwards in your opponent's back row from right to left and finally in your opponent's central row from right to left (see the diagram).

A player is only permitted to start his move with a group of three seeds only if he has no other choice, and in such circumstances is obliged to sow the three seeds furthest forward along the route of play.

The move ends if the last seed is dropped into an empty hole.

Whenever an opponent's hole is filled with four seeds, it is turned into a "gélo", except in the initial move of the first player, which only serves to re-arrange the original pattern of three seeds per hole.

It is only permitted to drop stones into your own gélo, but not into your opponent's. On arriving at any such hole or holes, these are passed over, dropping the next ball into the following hole.

When a player creates a gélo, all the enemy gélo opposite (i.e. in the same file) are reverted to their original status of an ordinary hole or holes. In the same way, a gélo in one of the corner holes can be destroyed by an opponent making a gélo in the diametrically opposite hole.

The game ends, when a player can no longer move because his holes have all been turned into gelo.

The player who could move last, wins the game.


Pankhurst, R.
Gabata and Related Board Games of Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. In: Ethiopia Observer 1971; 14 (3): 189.


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