Mancala World

Lukho → Italian

Other Names: Olukho
First Description: Walter
Driedger, 1972
Cycles: One
Ranks: Two
Sowing: Multiple laps
Region: Kenya

Lukho, also called Olukho, is a mancala game played by the Bukusu, one of the seventeen Kenyan sub-tribes of the Luhya nation. They live in fortified villages on the foothills of Mount Elgon and number about 900,000 people. Lukho was first described by Walter Driedger in 1971.

The game board is usually made of wood, but sometimes dug into the ground or carved into solid rock. The counters are small stones.

It differs from most mancala games in that the outcome of the game depends on the first three moves only. Since the result cannot be predicted it is actually a game of luck.

Lukho is only played by adult males. Boys are not permitted to play the game because it would distract them from their duties.

Driedger remarked:

"The game (...) is played in a rather orderly fashion between two opponents, a third person serving as referee and score keeper. It is felt that the Maasai method of team playing leads to fights."


The board (lukho) consists of two rows, each one with 8, 10 or 12 holes.

Initially there are three stones called "cows" in each hole.


Initial Position

Phase 1

On their first turn each player removes any number of stones from the holes of their row.

Phase 2

On their second turn the players place any number of stones from their hand in any one hole on their opponent's side, but must keep at least one stone.

Phase 3

On their third turn both players simultaneously sow the stones remaining in their hands dropping the first stone in their left-most hole and going counterclockwise. If the last stone of a lap falls into an empty hole, its contents are lifted and distributed in another lap until the last stone falls into an empty hole or makes a four on either side of the board.

If the last stone in hand falls into an empty hole of the player's own row, he captures all contents of the opposite hole together with the last dropped stone. If the opposite hole is empty, nothing is captured.

If the following holes on the player's side of the board are empty, he also captures the contents of the opposite holes as long as the empty holes form a continuous string and the holes opposite to them are occupied.

Phase 4

The final phase is begun by the player who terminated the simultaneous move first. Turns alternate again.

Every move must begin at the non-empty pit which is farthest left on one's own side of the board.

Capturing is as in phase 3 with one addition:

If, after the player has made at least one capture, the last stone in his hand falls into a hole, which contains just one stone, thus making a two, the hole is marked. It is then called a "knife". A "knife" can be made on either side of the board. Any stone, which is dropped into a "knife", is owned by the player to whom the knife belongs.

The game is over when one player has no stones, except perhaps in knives, left in his own row. The winner is the player who captured most stones.


Lukho is often played in sets of twelve using the following scoring system for each game:

  • 2 points: Both players have captured stones but one player has got more stones than his opponent.
  • 4 points: Only one player has made any captures at all, or one player has won by exactly two stones. In the latter case, the winning stone is called a "bull".
  • 12 points: The first game of a set is won by exactly two stones (ie. the game was decided by a "bull").


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.


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