Mancala World

Kiothi → Italian.

First Description: Bernardo
Bernardi, 1959
Cycles: One
Ranks: Two
Sowing: Multiple laps
Region: Kenya (Mount Ken-

Kiothi ("putting" or "placing" in Kimeru) is a mancala game of the Meru living primarily on the northeastern slope of Mount Kenya. It is played on a large wooden board (about 36 inch long) with nickernuts (Caesalpinia bonduc) known as "njodthie".

The game was first described by Bernardo Bernardi in 1959. In 1972, Father Andrew Botta of the Materi Catholic Mission reported that there was a Kiothi Club at Meru, Tharaka District.


"During the day, the Mugwe spends his time playing Kiothi, (...) but even while he plays, he must always keep his left hand covered and no one must see it. Sudden death would overtake anyone who dared to look at the left hand of the Mugwe."

Rodney Needham: "The Left Hand of the Mugwe"


The Kiothi boards has two rows of 10 holes called "boma". Each row is owned by a player. Some boards also have a large store hole at either end known as "prison".

Each player has 30 "warriors". At the start each of the five rightmost holes contains five of them.


Initial Position

On his first turn a player empties up to two boma and redistributes its warriors in any way he wants into his own boma or those of his adversary.

All the boma, which contain warriors after the first turn must be somehow marked. Marked boma are called "nki".

After the first turn a player starts his move by taking any number of warriors from one of his boma and then sows them one by one conterclockwise into the following boma around the board:

  • the last warrior of the first lap must not end in an occupied boma of the player's own row
  • after contents of a boma had been sown, its marking is removed, it ceases to be a "nki"

When the last warrior falls into an occupied boma, its contents are all distributed in another lap.

The sowing ends when the last warrior is dropped into an empty boma.

If the last warrior falls into an empty boma in the player's own row, he captures the warriors in the opposite boma, if they are not in a "nki".

These warriors, including the one effecting the capture, are put in the player's prison.

However, if the opposite boma is empty or a "nki", nothing is captured.

In either case the move ends.

If the last warrior was dropped into the leftmost boma of the player's own row, he is also entitled to capture the contents of the three adjacent enemy boma to its right provided

  • each of them is occupied.
  • they must form a contigous line
  • they must have been empty at the beginning or since then be moved (again, the contents of a "nki" may not be captured)

When one player has no moves left, the game is over and all the warriors remaining on the board are won by the player who can still make a move.

The player with the greatest number of warriors wins.

A win by a margin of just two (a "one warrior victory") is often considered equivalent to two normal victories and sometimes even as high as ten victories.


Bernardi, B.
The Mugwe: A Failing Prophet; a Study of a Religious and Public Dignitary of the Meru of Kenya. Oxford University Press, London (England), New York (USA) & Toronto (Canada) 1959.
Driedger, W.
The Game of Bao or Mancala in East Africa. In: MILA (Institute of African Studies, University of Nairobi) 1972; 3 (1): 7-20.
Haigh, J. C.
The Touble with Lions: A Glasgow Vet in Africa. University of Alberta Press, Edmonton (Canada) 2008, 268.
Needham, R.
The Left Hand of the Mugwe: An Analytical Note On The Structure of Meru Symbolism. In: Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 1960; 30 (1): 20-33.
Padre Botta.
Kiothi: The Most Ancient Game of Africa. Materi Catholic Mission, Materi (Kenya) 1972.
Townshend, P.
Mankala in Eastern and Southern Africa: A Distributional Analysis. In: Azania: Journal of the British Institute in Eastern Africa 1979; 14: 124+128-129.


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