Mancala World
Katra Gorobaka
Other Names: Katra
First Description: André-
Jean Dandouau, 1909
Cycles: Two
Ranks: Four
Sowing: Multiple laps
Region: Madagascar

Katra Gorobaka (gorobaka "to cross from one side to another") is a mancala game played by 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. The game was first described by André-Jean Dandouau (1874-1924) in 1909.


Katra Mpantsaka is played on a board (variously called fanaovan-katra, fikatrahana, laharana or fanga), which has four rows of eight holes. Each hole has two counters (vary "rice"), usually nickernuts.


Initial Position

The game is played by two persons.

In the first turn the contents of one of the holes of the player's front row are picked up and then sown by him into either direction into consecutive holes around the two rows of his side.

If the last stone falls into a non-empty hole, its contents are distributed in another lap continuing in the same direction as before (unless seeds are captured -- see below).

The move ends, when the last stone is dropped into an empty hole (mandri "to sleep").

After the very first turn a move can be started from any occupied hole of the player's front or back row.


  • A move can also start with a singleton.
  • The direction of sowing may not be changed during a turn.

If the last stone falls into an occupied hole of the front row and any hole in the same file on the opponent's side also contains stones, these stones are captured (homana "to eat"). The captured contents and the seeds of the hole, where the capture had been effected, are sown in another lap starting in the next hole which follows.

  • It is permitted to capture many times.
  • The contents of the hole in the opponent's back row are captured even if the corresponding hole in his front row is empty.

The game ends, when a player has no seeds left.

The player who captured all of the seeds, wins the game. The loser is said to be "lazy (kamo)


According to some players a move may not start with a singleton. Then a game ends when a player has only empty holes or holes, which contain just a single seed. The player who moved last wins.


According to Dandouau the first player has a huge advantage. The best way for him to start a game is to take the seeds of the fourth hole of his front row. If he took the one to his right, he should sow them clockwise, otherwise they should be sown counterclockwise. After that the opponent has only three files of occupied rows left, none of these holes can capture.


Dandouau, A.-J.
Jeux Malgaches. In : Bulletin de l'Académie Malgache 1909; 7: 81-97.


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