Mancala World

Mbothe → German, Italian.

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

Mbothe is a mancala game of the Pokomo in Kenya. The Pokomo are agriculturalists and fishermen living in small villages of 10 - 60 grass-thatched houses along the Tana River in the Tana River District. Their culture is based around a complex social hierarchy and a strong faith in cooperation. The Pokomo language is spoken by about 29,000 people.

Mbothe was first described by Walter Driedger in 1972. The game, which is considered to be just an entertainment, is played by both sexes and all ages. It seems to be related to the Ethiopian game of Lamlameta.


The board has 2 x 10 = 20 holes. Initially each hole contains two stones.


Initial Position

On his turn a player takes the contents of one of his holes, which are then sown, one by one, counterclockwise into the following holes.

A move may not originate from a hole containing two stones unless all non-empty holes have two stones. If no other hole exists from which to make a move, the one farthest right must be played. The opening move must, therefore, be from the right hand end.

If the last stone falls into a non-empty hole, its contents are picked up together with the last stone, and continued to be distributed.

The move ends when the last stone is dropped into an empty hole.

It is not permitted to drop a stone into opponent's holes, which contain two stones except in the very first move. Later these holes are omitted.

If the last stone falls into an empty hole on the own side facing an enemy hole containing two stones the moving player captures this pair. The captured stones are removed from the board and stored.

Afterwards the player gets a bonus move. It is possible to build up chains of moves, since this is repeated after every capture.

If a player has nothing left in his holes, the current player must make a move that gives him stones (as in Oware).

Play comes to an end when one of the players can no longer move or the remaining stones continue to circle around the board.

Each player then counts the captured stones plus those in his holes. The player who got more stones wins the game.

See also

  • Lamlameta, a related game of the Konso in Ethiopia


Driedger, W. 
The Game of Bao or Mancala in East Africa. In: MILA (Institute of African Studies, University of Nairobi) 1972 (1): 3.


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