Seeds → Portuguese.

The counters employed in mancala games are usually called seeds even if they are not really plant seeds, but cowries, pebbles or dung balls, while in many modern games glass stones or plastic pieces are used.

The symbolic meaning depends on the societal background of the game. In agricultural societies the counters usually stand for the seeds used to till a field. A certain amount of seeds which is captured, e.g. two or three in Oware or two, four and six in the Bohnenspiel, represents a ripe fruit that is harvested. In societies which are based on fishing the seeds can mean fish. In pastoral societies the counters are considered to be cattle. In general, the symbolic meaning is often associated with fertility.

Sometimes the counters of modern mancala games also have a special meaning. In Banan-Cala they are fruits, in Space Walk space ships, in Glass Bead Game precious gems.

No Seed is a political thriller directed by Howard and Mitzi Allen of Antigua in 2002 which tells a story of power, superstition and deception. The film is craftily woven to parallel a Warri game. Its name is an allusion to the well-known Antiguan Warri proverb:

"When you play Warri with God, you get no seed".


Names of the seeds in tradtional mancala games
Game Origin Name English Meaning
Andada Kunama (Eritrea) ayla cow
Anywoli Anuak (Ethiopia, South Sudan) nyibaré children of the board game
Bao la Kiswahili Swahili (East Africa) kete cowrie
Baré Anuak (Ethiopia, South Sudan) nyibaré children of the board game
Bohnenspiel Germans (Estonia, Germany) Bohne(n) bean(s)
Ceelkoqyuqkoqiji Naxi (Yunnan (China)) lubasso / gong / mu small stones / male (smaller one of the large stones) / female (bigger one of the large stones)
Choro Acholi, Didinga & Lango (South Sudan, Uganda) dyangdyang (Acholi) / tangten (Didinga) / dyang - dok (Lango) cow – cattle (seed – seeds)
Daramutu Sinhalese (Sri Lanka) puta / naga / wala son / daughter / slave

(singleton / two counters / three counters)

Dong Wo Achang (Yunnan (China)) laomuzi / muzi old mother / mother
Enkeshui Maasai (Kenya) (?) cow (four counters in a hole are a bull)
Hoyito / Kay Dominicans & Haitians (Dominican Republic, Haiti) casa (Spanish) / kay (Kreyòl) house (four counters in a hole)
Hus Namaqua (Namibia) gomate cows
Kiothi Meru (Kenya) (?) warriors
Kubuguza Tutsi (Rwanda) inká / ubusoro cows (of common breed) / small balls
Laomuzhukeng Han (Yunnan (China)) laomuzhu / zhuer old sow / piglets (large stones / small stones)
Laomuzhuqi Han (Yunnan (China)) laomuzhu / laodao old mother pig (large stones)
Lukho Bukusu (Kenya) (?) cow
Moruba Pedi (South Africa) mathlapa cattle
Pasu Pondi Tamils (India) pasu cow (four counters in a hole)
Sungka Tagalog (Philippines) sigay shells of small snails
Toguz Kumalak Kazakhs, Kyrgyz (Central Asia) kumalak (Kazakh) / korgool (Kyrgyz) pebbles / dung balls
Tok Ku Rou Shiluk & Dinka (Ethiopia, South Sudan) nyali wet (Shiluk) / nyin wet (Dinka) wet children / wet eye
Ünee Tugalluulax Kazakhs (Mongolia) ünee / bux ünee khojor / ünee delegnene / ünee tugalsan cow / cow and bull / cow with inflated udder / cow which has calved (the names refer to holes containing 1, 2, 3 or 4 dung balls (khorgol))

Typical Counters

Games using plant seeds
Plant (Latin name of the species) Games & Country
Olinda Creeper (Abrus precatorius)
called kundu mani (குந்து மணி) in Tamil
Daramutu (Sri Lanka), Kotu-baendum (Sri Lanka);
Walak-pussa (Sri Lanka); Puhulmutu (Sri Lanka)
Red Bead Tree (Adenanthera pavonina)
also called manjati (மஞ்சாடி) or anai
kundumani in Tamil
Ali Guli Mane (India); Pallankuzhi (India)
Candlenut (Aleurites moluccana)
called kemiri in India
Vamana Guntalu (India)
Arnotto Tree (Bixa orellana) Cenne (India)
Gray Nickernut (Caesalpinia bonduc) Um ed-Dyar (Mauretania); Waurie (Grand Cayman);
Bao (Tanzania); En Gehé (Tanzania); Kauri
(Germany); Katra (Sakalava people) (Madagascar);
Kiothi (Kenya); Oware (Western Africa); Tchouba
Msolo (Caesalpinia cristata) Bao (Tanzania)
Brown Nickernut (Caesalpinia major) Warri (Antigua & Barbuda); Waurie (Grand Cayman)
Mubuthi (Caesalpinia volkensii) Uthi (Kenya)
Menga (Canarium schweinfurtii) Kisolo (Congo)
Jack Bean (Canavalia ensiformis) Um ed-Dyar (Mauretania)
Indian Canna (Canna indica) Songo Ewondo (Cameroon)
Oil Palm (Elaeis guineensis) Songo Ewondo (Cameroon)
Kaffir Coral Tree (Erythrina caffra) Cenne (India)
Bean (Fabaceae ssp.) Bohnenspiel (Germany, Tsaristic Russia); Cups
(USA - modern); Oware (Senegal)
Calabash Tree (Crescentia cujete) Hoyito (Dominican Republic)
Sapodilla (Manilkara achras) Dakon (Indonesia); Vamana Guntalu (India)
Chinaberrytree (Melia azedarach L.) Katra (Merina people) (Madagascar)
Luiki (Mesoneurum welwitschianum) Omweso (Uganda)
Sea Beans (Mucuna spec.) Kpo (Liberia)
Wild Banana (Musa acuminata ssp.);
seeds are called empiki
Omweso (Uganda)
Ngola Tree (Pictantus makombo) Embeli (Congo); Imbelece (Congo); Kisolo (Congo)
Almond Tree (Prunus dulcis) Mandoli (Greece)
African Nut Tree (Ricinodendron heudelotii) Okwe (Nigeria)
Mungongo Tree (Ricinodendron rautanenii) Mulabalaba (Zambia)
Marula Tree (Scelocarya birrea) Hus (Namibia); Tchouba (Mozambique)
Bitter Apple / Sodom Apple (Solanum incanum) Giuthi (Kenya)
Tamarind (Tamarindus indica) Ali Guli Mane (Malaysia); Kuzhi Palaka (India);
Pallanguzhi Āṭam (India); Vamana Guntalu (India)
Wild Orange Tree (Toddalia asiatica) Ajua Kenya
Maize (Zea mays) Vamana Guntalu (India)

Games using feces
Animal (Latin name of the species) Games & Country
Goat (Capra aegagrus hircus) Hus (Namibia); Toguz Kumalak (Kazakhstan,
old times); Unee Tugaluulach (Mongolia); Qelat
Domestic Sheep (Ovies aries) Hus (Namibia); Tap-urdy (Turkmenistan);
Toguz Kumalak (Kazakhstan, old times);
Um ed-Dyar (Mauretania); Ünee Tugalluulax
Dromedary (Camelus dromedarius) Andot (Sudan); Layli Goobalay (Somalia)

Games using pearls and shells
Natural Materials Games & Country
"Black Pearls" (?) Songo Ewondo (Cameroon)
Cowries (Cypraea ssp.) Bao (Tanzania); Cenne (India); Congkak (Malaysia);
Kauri (Germany); Pallankuzhi (India); Sungka (Philippines);
Ali Guli Mane (India)

Games using other materials
Inorganic & Artificial Materials Games & Country
Pebbles Adji-boto (Suriname); Aw-li On-nam Ot-tjin (Malaysia);
Bao la Kimasai (Tanzania); Bulto (Ethiopia); En Gehé
(Tanzania); Giuthi (Kenya); Hawalis (Oman); Hus
(Namibia); Katro (Madagascar); Kiela (Angola);
Layli Goobalay (Somalia); Tsoro (Zimbabwe);
Um ed-Dyar (Mauretania); Vai Lung Thlan (India)
Gems Vamana Guntalu (India)
Marbles Chonka (Indonesia (Borneo))
Glass Beads Glass Bead Game (Netherlands - modern); Oware
Glass Stones Kalah (USA - modern); Warra (USA)
Sanded Ceramic Fragments Warra (USA)
Wooden Pieces Banan-Cala (USA - modern)
Cards (Paper) Cow Poke (USA - modern); Octagon (England -
modern); Rondell (Germany - modern); Widdershins
(England -modern)
Golden Counters Oware (Ghana - Ashanti kings)
Coins Coin Duel (USA - modern)
Plastic Beads Toguz Kumalak (Kazakhstan - today); Oware
Plastic Pieces Space Walk (Germany - modern)

See also


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