Mancala World
First Description: J. H.
Chaplin, 1956
Cycles: Two
Ranks: Two
Sowing: Multiple laps
Region: Zambia

Isolo is a mancala game played by the Bemba in Zambia. The game was first described by J. H. Chaplin in 1956. Some rules were misunderstood by André Deledicq and Assia Popova in 1977 and later by Víktor Bautista i Roca. The strange way of sowing could have been influenced by Bao.


The game is played in two parts called "fore-play" and the "main game" by Chaplin.

General Rules

Each player controls one row of the board.

A move begins by adding one seed from the stock to a non-empty hole on his row. Then the player takes all these seeds and sows them, ony by one, counterclockwise starting in the leftmost pit. If he reaches the rightmost pit he continues to sow on his own side from left to right. It is true that Chaplin didn't wrote that explicitly (although Deledicq and Popova did), but all the other games he observed were four-row games, in which each player only sows on his side and sowing on both sides would render the game unplayable.


  • When the stock seed was added to the hole prior to the last one, its contents are sown starting in the rightmost hole.

If the last seed falls into an empty hole, the move ends (and the player "sleeps") without anything being captured.

The move is continued in another lap, which begins in the next hole, if the last seed falls into an occupied hole and the opposite hole belonging to his opponent is empty.

If the last seed of a lap falls into an occupied hole and the opposite hole is also occupied, the player captures (or "eats") the contents of the enemy hole.

After the first lap:

  • When the contents of one of the four central holes or the contents (any number of seeds) of one of the four endholes (at least two seeds) were captured, they are resown starting in the leftmost hole.
  • When the contents of one of the two left (right) endholes were captured, while it contained a mwipinda (a singleton), this seed is put into the rightmost (leftmost) hole of the capturing player, then the total contents of this hole are resown starting in the leftmost (next to the leftmost) hole.

Multiple captures:

  • If any of the above resowings results in a further capture in the next lap, the captured seeds are resown starting in the leftmost hole.

After a non-capturing lap:

  • If nothing was captured in the previous lap, a player may capture in the next lap. The captures are then resown beginning at the hole next to the last emptied one, subject to the special provisions for endhole captures as outlined above.


At the beginning there are two seeds in each hole, plus a theoretically unlimited stock of seeds for each player. The stock seeds are called nkonto.


Initial Position

The fore-play is won by the player who leaves his opponent with no seeds in his row.

The Main Game

The loser of the fore-play puts two seeds in each hole of his row. The winner arranges the seeds he had at the end of the fore-play in his holes with no limitations as to number of seeds used or holes occupied. He can leave holes empty. This is called kucheleka.


Possible Kucheleka after South won the Fore-play

The main game is then continued by the winner with the same rules as outlined in the description of the fore-play. Again, Chaplin didn't say who continues to play, but play-testing showed that it must be the winner of the fore-play, otherwise the loser would almost always win the decisive main game

The game is won by the player whose opponent has no seeds left in his row.

See also

  • There are more mancala games called "Isolo" played in Tanzania. One is mostly played by girls, the other by boys.
  • Mwambulula, another mancala game of the Bemba.


Chaplin, J. H.
A Note on Mancala Games in Northern Rhodesia. In: Man: The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 1956; 56 (12): 169.
Deledicq, A. & Popova, A.
Wari et Solo: Le Jeu de Calcul Africain.Cedic. Paris (France) 1977: 97-98.


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