Mancala World

Imbelece → German.

First Description: Philip
Townshend, 1977
Cycles: One
Ranks: Three
Sowing: Multiple laps
Region: D. R. of the Congo

Imbelece is a three-row mancala game of the Genya (also known as Wagenia). They are a small people with a population of just about 19,000 who live near the Stanley Falls not far from Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Genya were fishermen and hunters.

Imbelece is only played by men as it symbolizes fertility and courtship. The Genya use the seeds of the Ngola tree (Pictantus makombo) to play the game. It seems to be related to Embeli and also to some Ethiopian mancala games such as Selus.

Imbelece was first described by the British ethnograph Philip Townshend in 1977. Later another description was published by the American Larry Russ which was inaccurate (like so many of his accounts).

There was an Imbelece tournament at the Regionale Schule, Niederzissen (Germany), on May 15, 2008, which was won by David Fischbach.


Imbelece is played on a mancala board, which consists of three rows. The outer rows have six holes. The central row has four ordinary holes and a large one in the middle, which is a store. The smaller holes are called moseka ("girls"). A player controls the six holes in the outer row closest to him and the holes to his right of the central row. The store is used by both players.

At the beginning each girl contains three seeds called maana a moome ("boys") or maana a leemba ("male teenagers").


Initial Position

On his turn a player distributes the boys of one of his holes counter-clockwise into the following girls. This is called koenda ("visiting the girls"). After a player has dropped the last boy into the right-most girl of his outer row, he continues sowing by visiting his girl in the central row adjacent to the store, then the girl to the right, before he switches to the opponent's outer row.

If the last boy visits a girl, which contains boys, these boys including the visitor are distributed in another lap.

If the last boy makes a population of four boys in a girl of his opponent, this girl is "closed" by putting a leaf on it. The Genya call it kosongo moseka ("marrying a girl") or koija moseka ("killing a girl"; in other words: turning a girl into a woman). For moseka, you can also say moakali ("newlywed woman"). Then the four boys are distributed in another lap.


In the first half-move no girl can be married.

During sowing closed holes are skipped. If the wife was made from one of the player's girls, nothing happens. However, if she is on the opponent's side, a boy must be put into the store, before the sowing continues. This is known as ko-ongesa moakali moleli ("providing food to the newlywed woman" (while her husband is on a hunt)).

A move or a lap may never start from a closed hole nor the store.

The move ends, when the last boy falls into an empty girl or in a wife of the opponent's side (i.e. the store).

The player who could move last wins.

Draws and ties cannot occur.


The girls in the lower right and upper left corners are known as ipaoko ("respectable girls"). A boy who marries such a girl in real life, will enhance his social prestige, a player who marries her in the game will have a big advantage.


Russ, L.
The Complete Mancala Games Book: How to Play the World's Oldest Board Games. Marlowe& Company, New York (USA) 2000, 42.
Townshend, P.
Les Jeux de Mancala au Zaïre, au Ruanda et au Burundi. In: Cahiers de CEDAF - ASDOC Studies. Institut Africain-CEDAF / Africa Instituut-ASDOC, Tervuren (Belgium) 1977 (3): 13-15.


Adapted from the Wikinfo article, "Imbelece", used under the GNU Free Documentation License.