Mancala World
Katra Fandatsaka
Other Names: Fifangha
First Description: Étienne
de Flacourt, 1658
Cycles: Two
Ranks: Four
Sowing: Multiple laps
Region: Madagascar

Katra Fandatsaka (from latsaka "to fall") was first described under the name of Fifangha by the French traveller Étienne de Flacourt (1607–1660) who observed the game among the Sakalava in the north-west of Madagascar in 1658. The Sakalava people, which occupy the Western edge of the island from Toliara in the south to Sambirano in the north. They speak several dialects of the Malagasy language, which is a branch of the Malayo-polynesian language group derived from the Barito languages spoken in southern Borneo and are numbering approximately 700,000 in population. In 1909, the complete rules were given by André-Jean Dandouau (1874-1929). The game appears to be a precursor of modern-day Bao la Kiswahili.


The rules of Katra Fandatsaka are similar to Bao la Kiswahili. The following differences have been reported by Dandouau:

  • The game starts with the set-up shown below and each player keeps 26 seeds (fandatsoka) in reserve.


Initial Position

  • There are no nyumbas and, therefore, none of the rules associated with them which make Bao la Kiswahili such a difficult game to learn.
  • It is permitted to capture by sowing the contents of a hole, which contains more than 16 seeds.
  • It is permitted to empty the front row, but it loses the game.
  • There is no takasia rule.

Technical Terms

Many specific words and expressions are used to describe the game.

Malagasy Equivalent term in Bao la Kiswahili Literal English translation English meaning
fanaovan-katra (1), fikatrahana (2), laharana (3), fanga (4) bao Katra base (1), (?) (2), alignment (3), Katra board (4) game board for playing Katra
amparalakana kichwa end of the range endholes at either end of the inner AND the outer rows
ati-trano (?) indoors inner row
ambani-trano (?) behind the house outer row
chibon kimbi natural hole in the ground turning base (the two holes at either end of the inner rows)
ratolalaka (1), bassy (2) komwe (kete) stones, which cannot be compressed (1), ball (2) nickernuts used as counters
vatolalaka namu (?) 1. storage for the reserve seeds; 2. reserve seeds
vary (?) rice occupied hole
vary be (?) big rice most loaded hole
fotsiny (1), latsaka (2) kunamua to move in blank (1), to fall (2) playing a reserve seed
homana kula to eat to capture
mandry kulala to sleep move ending in an empty hole
mameno-atrika utitiri (?) filling the empty ones special technique of defense and attack involving singletons in the front row
kamo (?) lazy said about the loser


Dandouau, A.-J.
Jeux Malgaches. In : Bulletin de l'Académie Malgache 1909; 7: 81-97.
Flacourt, E. de.
Histoire de la Grande Isle Madagascar. Paris (France) 1658, 108-110.
Freeman, J. J. & Johns, D.
A Dictionary of the Malagasy Language. London Missionary Society, Antananarivo (Madagascar) 1835.


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