Mancala World
L'ab al-Akil
Other Names: Mankal'ah
First Description: Edward
William Lane, 1836
Cycles: One
Ranks: Two
Sowing: Multiple laps
Region: Egypt

L'ab al-Akil ("The Game of the Wise"), also spelled Leab el-akil, is an Egyptian mancala game, which was popular in the 19th century. It was also known as Mankal'ah (from the Arabic word naqala meaning literally "moved"). The game was first described by the British Orientalist, translator and lexicographer Edward William Lane (1801-1876) in 1836. It was still observed by the English artist, book illustrator and travel writer Walter Frederick Roofe Tyndale (1855–1943) in 1912 who painted it in Cairo, but appears to be forgotten today.

Tyndale explains:

"[The game] is still universal in the villages where tric-trac has not yet found its way. I have been shown how to play it, but space will not allow of a lengthy description of its details. It is played on an oblong board with twelve hollows in two rows of six each, each row forming an opposing camp. There are seventy-two cowries, or, failing these, small pebbles, and it is according to the manner in which these are distributed into the hollows that makes the game. An elaborate account of the various modes of playing it is given in Lane's Modern Egyptians."


The game is played on a board of 2x6=12 pits (called "beyt" or "buyoot") and two stores. Initially the board is empty. There are 72 seeds off-board. Usually these were shells or pebbles termed "hasa" (singular, "hasweh").


Initial Position

On his first turn, one player puts the seeds in any pits he wants. After that his opponent choses the row he likes most. This stage of the game is called "tebweez".

Then the game play continues in a usual manner.

"A Cairene Café" by Walter Tyndale (1912)

Each move a player distributes the contents of any pit of his row.

Sowing is counter-clockwise and multi-lap. If the last seed is dropped into an occuppied pit, which didn't contain one or three seeds, its contents are distributed in another lap.

However, if he makes a two or a four on either row, he captures these seeds and removes them from the board. In addition, he captures the seeds in the opposite pit.

If the previous-to-last seed also brought a oit to two or four, these are captured as well, and so on, including the contents of the opposite pits.

When one player has more than one seed in his pits, and the other has none, the former is obliged to put one of his into the first of his opponent's pits.

The game ends when there is just one seed left, which is then appropriated by the player who owns its pit.

The player who captured more seeds wins the game. The game is a draw, when both players have captured 36 seeds. The excess of seeds is counted as the player's gain.

The game is played in rounds. The first player who makes his successive gains to amount to sixty or more, wins the match.


According to these rules it is possible that the last two seeds continue to circle around forever. Lane didn't state what the players were supposed to do if this happens. It is suggested that each player gets one seed.


"It is very commonly played at the coffee-shops; and the players generally agree, though it is unlawful to do so, that the loser shall pay for the coffee drunk by himself and his adversary and the spectators, or for a certain number of cups."

Edward William Lane (1836)

See also[]

External Links[]


Clement, J.
Jocs mancala a Egipte a principis del segle XX. In: Món aualé 2013 (2); 2: 4-7.
Lane, E. W.
An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, Written in Egypt During the Years 1833, 34, and 35. Partly from Notes Made During a Former Visit to that Country in the Years 1825, 26, 27 and 28. London (England) 1836.
Tyndale, W. F. R.
An Artist in Egypt. Hodder & Stoughton, New York NY (USA) & London (England) 1912.


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