Sungka → German.

Other Names: Kunggit,
Sungca, Sunka, Chuncajon
First Description: José
Sanchez, 1692
Cycles: One
Ranks: Two
Sowing: Multiple laps
Region: Philippines

Sungka is a Philippine mancala game, which is now also played wherever Philippine migrants are living; e.g. in Macau, Taiwan, Germany, and the USA. Like the closely related Congkak it is traditionally a women's game.

Sungka was first described by the Jesuit priest Father José Sanchez in his dictionary of the Bisaya language (=Cebuano) in 1692 [manuscript] as Kunggit. Father José Sanchez who had arrived on the Philippines in 1643 wrote that at the game was played with seashells on a wooden, boat-like board. The Aklanon people still call the game Kunggit. José Sanchez (born Josef Zanzini [*1616-1692) in Trieste, Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation) is known for founding the town of Jagna on Bohol, which is today famous for its rich historical heritage.

There are Sungka tournaments in the Philippines, Taiwan, Australia, Austria, England and the USA. The biggest competition is held each year at the Kadayawan Sports Festival in Davao. In May 2006, the Philippine Empassy compound in Pretoria, South Africa, hosted a Sungka tournament during the ASEAN Games and Sports, which was held under the auspices of ASEAN Embassies based in South Africa. The six winners for the first Sungka game competition were participants from the following embassies: Vietnam, 1st; Malaysia, 2nd; Malaysia, 3rd; Indonesia, 4th; Philippines, 5th and Indonesia, 6th. In 2008, the Philippine Language and Cultural Association of Australia, Inc. (PLCAA) organized a Sungka competition at the Sydney Regatta Centre, Penrith. The Department of Computer Studies at the Imperial College of Science in London (England) held a computer tournament in 2004.

It is known that Sungka improves mathematical thinking and teaches patience and observation skills. The John W. Garvy Elementary School in Chicago (Illinois, USA) uses Sungka to help children with dyscalculia.


Traditional Sungka Board (Culin 1894)

Sungka is similar to many other Southern Asian mancala games such as Naranj (Maldives), Dakon (Java), Congkak (Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia) and Chongka' (Marianas). The game differs from Kalah which is known in North America and Europe in being a multi-lap game. Another important difference is that the first move is executed simultaneously in Sungka which is meant to balance the game. Sungka is distinguished from Congkak by being played counterclockwise and also by some other minor rule differences.

Cultural significance

Sungka is an important means for creating identity, particularly for Philippine migrants. This can be seen in Sungka competitions, which are organized in the Philippines, and in the representation of Philippine culture at cultural festivals through Sungka demonstrations. The identity forming function of the game is also a central theme in Sungka and Smiling Irish Eyes, A Boy discovers what it means to be Half-Irish and Half-Filipino by Natalie Gonzales-Sullaway. The feminist poet and communication scientist Alison M. De La Cruz wrote in 1999 a one-woman performance called Sungka, which analyses the societal and family-related expectations in regard to gender-specific behavior and sexuality, race and ethnic affiliation, by comparing it to a game of Sungka. De La Cruz also reflects in her performance how she has come to terms with her lesbian coming-out. Her poem That Age, which was part of the performance, has become well-known in the America.

Moreover, Sungka is still used by fortunetellers and prophets, which are called on the Philippines bailan or maghuhula, for divinatory purposes. Older people hope to find out with their help whether the journey of a youth is favorable at a certain day, and girls, whether they will marry one day, and, in case they will, when this will be. The game is usually played outdoors because there is a Filipino superstition about a house will burn down if it's played indoors. In the Anay district in Panay, the loser is said to be patay ("dead"). The belief is that he will have a death in his family or that his house will burn down.

In past times Sungka boards were also used for mathematical calculations, which were researched by Indian ethnomathematicians.

Although the Sungka rules don't differ much from those of Congkak, Sungka is perceived as a genuinely Philippine game by native players.


The oblong game board (sungka(h)an), which is usually carved in wood (e.g. mahagany), consists of two rows of seven small pits called "houses" (bahay). In addition, there is a large store known as "head" (ulo) or "mother" (inay) for the captured stones at either end of the board. A player owns the store to his left.


Modern Sungka Board

Each small initially contains seven counters (sigay), usually cowrie shells.


Initial Position

On her turn a player empties one of his small pits and then distributes its contents in a clockwise direction, one by one, into the following pits including his own store, but passing the opponents store.

According to the National Historical Institute of the Philippines the game is also played counterclockwise with each player owning the store to his right.

If the last stone falls into a non-empty small pit, its contents are lifted and distributed in another lap.

If the last stone is dropped into the player's own store, the player gets a bonus move.

If the last stone is dropped into an empty pit, the move ends, i.e. it is "dead" (patay).

If the move ends by dropping the last stone into one of your own small pits you capture (katak or taktak; literally "exhausting") the stones in the opponent's pit directly across the board and your own stone. The captured stones are deposited (subi) in your store. However, if the opponent's pit is empty, nothing is captured.

The first move is played simultaneously. After that players take turns alternately. The first player to finish the first move may start the second move. However, in face-to-face play one player might start shortly after his opponent so that he could choose a response which would give him an advantage. There is no rule that actually could prevent such a tactic. So, in fact, the decision-making may be non-simultaneous.

You must move if you can. If you can't a player must pass until he can move again.

The game ends when no stones are left in the small pits.

The player who captures most stones wins the game.

Often the game is played in rounds. Pits, which couldn't be filled with captures, are closed (sunog; literally "burnt"), while the leftover seeds are put in his store. This continues until a player is unable to fill even one hole.


A variant which takes a lot of manual dexterity is Chopstick Sungka. The counters are not moved by hand but with chopsticks. Alumni of Silliman Univesity located in Dumaguete City (Philippines) who now live in British Columbia (Canada) had a Chopstick Sungka competition at Cultus Lake in 2012.

Filipino Riddles ("Bugtong bugtong")

In Tagalog:

Aso ko sa pantalan, lumukso ng pitong balon, umulit ng pitong gubat, bago nagtanaw dagat. (Tag.) Sungkahan.


My dog jumped from the wharf over seven wells, jumped again over seven forests, before it saw the sea. (Solution) Sungka board.

In Bicol:

Saro an lawas, duwa an payo, katorse an ngimot; kun minakakan nagagadan. (Simbag.) Sungka.


One body, two heads, 14 mouths; when it eats , it dies. (Solution) Sungka.

See also

External Links


Amaro, A. M.
Um Jogo Africano de Macau: a Chonca. Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Lisbon (Portugal) 1980.
Bernardo, G. A.
Sungka : Philippine Variant of a Widely Distributed Game. In: The Philippine Social Science Review 1937; 9 (3): 1-36.
Culin, S. 
Mancala: The National Game of Africa. In: Report of the National Museum, Philadelphia PA (USA) 1894, 597-611.
Culin, S. 
Philippine Games. In: American Anthropologist (New Series) 1900; 2: 643-656.
De la Cruz, B. A.
Aklan Superstitions About Toys. In: Philippine Magazine 1933; 30 (1): 30.
De La Cruz, R. E., Cage, C. E. & Lian, M.-G. J. 
Let's Play Mancala and Sungka: Learning Math and Social Skills Through Ancient Multicultural Games. In: Teaching Exceptional Children 2000; 32 (3): 38-42.
De La Torre, V. R.
Cultural Icons of the Philippines. Tower Book House, Makati City (Philippines) 2002.
Department of Foreign Affairs (Ed.). 
Philippine Embassy Pretoria Introduces Sungka Diplomacy at ASEAN Games and Sports 2006 in South Africa (Photo Release). Pasay City (Philippines), May 2006.
Eugenio, D. L.
Philippine Folk Literature: The Riddles. UP Press, Quezon City (Philippines) 1994.
Flores, P. V. 
Sungka: A Game Full of Holes. In: Filipinas Magazine 1998; 7 (3): 58-59 & 66.
Gazo, B.
The 2013 Sungka Festival at Balay Negrense . In: Sun Star July 6, 2013.
Gonzales-Sullaway, N. 
Sungka and Smiling Irish Eyes, A Boy Discovers What It Means to Be Half-Irish and Half-Filipino. Imprint Books, 2003. Review
Gupta, R. C.
On Sungka Approximation to Pi. In: Gadnita-Bharati 1997; 19 (1-4), 101-106.
Henson, M. A. 
How to Play Sungca or Chong-Ka. Angeles City CA (USA) 1958.
Lim-Yuyitung, V. & Mercado, M. A.
Games Filipino Children Play. Philippines Appliance Corporation, Manila (Philippines) 1978.
Liu, R. 
Foreign Laborers Hold Sungka Challenge. In: Taipei Times 2003; 5 (August 25): 3.
Manansala, P. K.
Sungka Mathematics of the Philippines. In: Indian Journal of History of Science 1995; 30(1): 14-29.
Manansala, P. K.
Quests of the Dragon and Bird Clan: How the Nusantao Maritime Trading Network Influenced the World., Sacramento CA (USA) 2006, 270-273.
Sanchez, J.
Bisaya Diccionario [Manuscript]. Jagna (Philippines) 1692.
Scott, L. E. 
Mancala in the Philippines (Letter). In: Games & Puzzles 1975; 34 (3): 21.
Starr, F. 
A Little Book of Filipino Riddles. World Book Co., Yonkers NY (USA) 1909, 145.
Voogt, A. J. de
Philippine Sungka and Cultural Contact in Southeast Asia. In: Asian Ethnology 2010; 69 (2): 333-342.


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