Mancala World
First Description: Peter
Townshend, 1977
Cycles: Two
Ranks: Three
Sowing: Multiple laps
Region: D. R. of the Congo

Mbelele is a very special mancala game. It is played by the Manga (or: Mba) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They live between Kisangani and Banalia and the game is played along the road that links Kisangani with Buta between kilometer 17 and 118. The Manga are the most southern Sudanese tribe in Upper Zaire.

The board, which measures about a meter, is made from the wood of the Kombo-Kombo (Musanga cecropioides). A beautiful Mbelele board is shown in the National Museum in Kinshasa since 1975.

What makes it a special game is the bizarre board and the fact that although there are two rows on the board, they are not shared by both players, as each plays only on his own row, making it one of the few two cycle games played on two rank boards. According to Townshend the game could also be regarded as a three-row mancala.


The board (called mbele pápa) consists of two rows of 16 holes and four intermediate holes that are called teka. At the beginning of the game there are three seeds (Sing.: mbelele; Pl.: mbelese) in each hole.


Initial Position (ownership of the holes marked by different colors)

On his turn the player takes all the seeds of a hole belonging to his side and sows them in either direction in multiple laps, until he gets to an empty hole. If he reaches the last hole in his side he comes back.

If the last seed is sown in an empty hole opposite to a non-empty enemy hole, the opponent's seeds are captured.

If the move ends in any of the teka, the capture is made in the correspondent hole of the opponent.


A dark hole captures from a dark hole. A light grey hole from a light grey one.

A capture made with a singleton only captures a single seed.

It is not allowed to start a move from the last hole but one on the right, going to the right, if it contains only two seeds (he move would end in the same hole).

The winner is the player who captures all of the opponent's seeds. If a player cannot capture all of his opponent's seeds the game is a draw.


Russ, L. 
The Complete Mancala Games Book: How to Play the World's Oldest Board Games. Marlowe & Company, New York (USA) 2000, 25-26 (second edition).
Townshend, P. 
Les Jeux de Mankala au Zaïre, au Ruanda et au Burundi. In: Les Cahiers de CEDAF / ASDOC Studies. Institut Africain-CEDAF / Africa Instituut-ASDOC, Tervuren (Belgium) 1977 (3); 16-20.


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By: Víktor Bautista i Roca.
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