Mancala World

Igisoro → Portuguese.

Other Names: Gisoro,
Ibisoro, Ikibuguzo,
Ikisoro, Kubuguza, Ku-
suro, Kuwaguza
First Description: J. M.
M. van der Burgt, 1903
Cycles: Two
Ranks: Four
Sowing: Multiple laps
Region: Burundi, Rwan-
da, Uganda

Igisoro is a two player game in the mancala family. This variant is played primarily by the Tutsi (also known as Abatutsi or Batutsi) in Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda. Igisoro, like Omweso, is played with an 4×8 board (igisoro) of pits (icúba) and 64 seeds. A player's territory is the two rows of pits closest to them.

According to Alexandre Kimenyi, California State University at Sacramento, cow vocabulary is metaphorically used in Igisoro: players try to capture each other's "cows" (inká) and a board position with many singletons are known as "a line of calves" (urunyána).

Boards are carved (there are even game tables) or holes in the ground are used.

Igisoro masters do never outwardly count the seeds in a pit in plotting a move and a player who counts with his finger would be the subject of much ridicule. Some experts play blindfolded and may even play multiple opponents simultaneously.

The game was promoted by the "Ministère de la Jeunesse et des Sports in Rwanda", which held an Igisoro competition in 1983. In December 2007, another Igisoro tournament was organized by Umurage (a culture center of Rwandian migrants) in Montreal, Canada.

In 2008, Antoine Nzeyimana from the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) in Rwanda won US$600 for his Igisoro gadget submitted to the inaugural Google East Africa Gadget Competition.

It isn't unusual to cheat the opponent, which is known as gukanga ("to betray").


"The new chief explained to me that they were proven 'génocidaires'. The others could remain free until their cases were cleared up. I was told to sit with some other boys. Some were playing Igisoro, others doing puzzles. There was laughter and arguments. The world hadn't changed. I didn't want to sleep anymore because I wanted to play too. Seeing the Igisoro reminded me of the old days when - how long ago was that? - my mother was still there to feed me beans with rancid butter and when, on Sundays, I served mass in church and scored goals for the Juniors' Group. No doubt in another era! I had grown up and everything had changed except my passion for Igisoro!"

The Oldest Orphan (2004)


Board and Counters

Each player controls the two rows of eight pits on his side and starts with four seeds (ubusoro; literally: "small balls") in each pit in the inner row of their territory.


Initial Position

Three Stages

The game consists of three stages:

  • Kugereka: Placing the seeds in groups of four as shown above.
  • Guc úmuvúno: The opening, which may consist of 2-4 moves. The first move is called kuvuna, the second kwivunura. The moves are performed simultaneously, although it is permissible to do them alternately in online play (as in Nzeyimana's applet). After the second move seeds can be captured. If no games were played before, any player can seize the initiative, otherwise this is reserved to the winner of the last game, which is known as gutáng inganji ("imposing his triumph"). A capture (kurása) immediately starts the third stage.
  • Kubúguza: Moves are performed alternately and capturing can occur all the time.

General Rules

Igisoro players in Kigali

On his turn, a player chooses a pit in their territory containing at least two seeds and sows them placing one seed in each pit as he moves counter-clockwise (guteba) around his territory.

If the last seed is sown into a non-empty pit of the outer row, the player picks up all seeds from this pit and begins to sow again, starting from the next pit.

If the last seed is sown into an occupied pit of the inner row and one of the opponent's opposite pits or both of them are empty, the turn also continues with another sowing as just described.

If the last seed is sown into an occupied pit of the inner row and both opponent's opposite pits are not empty, the player may pick up all seeds from these two pits and sow them.

  • When the player chooses to pick up his opponents seeds, the sowing begins again from the pit where the player originally began his turn.
  • If the player in his turn chooses not to pick up his opponents seeds, he has to say it: "I pass" (ndahise). To which the opponent may reply "I retreat" (ndakubye) and then immediately retreats the seeds that were not picked. The player retreats his seeds by picking the seeds in his pit at the inner row and adding them to his adjacent pit in the outer row, this is done while the other player is still sowing.

Only for a direct pick or catch, a player starting from, or arriving at the pits highlighted in grey below may choose to move clockwise (kugarama). When he starts from any other pit, he may only move counter-clockwise.


Reverse Pits

The reverse pits in the inner rows are called nteba, those in the outer rows ugutwi.

If the last seed falls into an empty hole, the turn ends.

The game is over and a player has lost when he cannot sow any of his seeds. The winner gets one point (igitégo) for each won game. If there are less than 64 seeds at the end, the game is not counted (kubúguz inkángane).


In some areas players are obliged to capture (ndahise is not permitted).

See also

Igisoro dictionary


Rwanda: Kist Student Wins Google Gadget Competition. In: The New Times (Kigali) 19 September 2008.
Bizimana, S.
Umukino w'igisoro. Reji y'Ingoro y'Umurage w'u Rwanda, 1991.
Burgt, J. M. M. van der
Un Grand Peuple d'Afrique Equatoriale. Bois-le-Duc (France) 1903, 69-71.
Coupez, A. & Benda, V.
Terminologie du Jeu d'Igisoro en Rwanda. In: Africa-Tervuren 1963; 9 (2): 37-41.
Huylebrouck, D.
Afrika en wiskunde. VUBPRESS, Brussels (Belgium) 2005, 127-144.
Kimenyi, A. 
Cow Metaphors. Paper read at Yale at 29 Annual Conference on African Linguistics. California State University at Sacramento, Sacramento CA (USA) 1999.
Merriam, A. P.
The Game of Kubuguza among the Abatutsi of North-East Ruanda. In: Man 1953; 53 (11): 169-172.
Monénembo, T.
The Oldest Orphan. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln NE (USA) 2004.
Murray, H. J. R.
The Game of Kubuguza among the Abatutsi (Correspondence). In: Man 1953; 53 (12): 194.

External Links


Adapted from the Wikipedia article, "Igisoro", used under the GNU Free Documentation License.