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When I was a teenager, my parents bought my little brother and sister a game called Mancala: “one of the oldest board games from Africa,” claimed the box. Mancala is the name that anthropologists have given to a type of board game that is played throughout Africa, and some places in Asia (from The Complete Mancala Games Book: How To Play the World’s Oldest Board Games by Larry Russ). They are usually made of wood that have various numbers of holes carved in them. Seeds, beans, or stones are moved around according to different rules, and victory is achieved when one player has captured all of the seeds.
Fast-forward to 2008, and my husband and I were traveling in southern Ethiopia. In a small village called Dorze we became friends with a group of boys who were interested in showing us their ping-pong table, their instruments, and their “Tegre” game. This was like mancala game I had when I was younger! With deft hands and broken English, the boys explained how to play, while quickly scooping up seeds and depositing them around the board. There are many ways to play, but here are the rules they explained to us, instructions for an easy-to-make game board, and even an on-line mancala game to try.
The game the boys showed us has 2 rows of 6 holes each. Start with 4 seeds in each hole. Sit facing your partner with the board between you. You each have 6 pits that are “yours” and the hole to your right is where you’ll put captured seeds (the hole to your partner’s right is theirs). The goal is to get as many seeds in your pit as possible!
Each player starts by choosing a hole on his side, and picking up all of the seeds in that hole. Then, moving in a counterclockwise direction, he/she should deposit them one by one in the following holes (as if taking a lap around the holes). This player continues to pick up seeds and place them in holes until the last seed goes into an empty hole.
When the last seed of the turn is placed into an empty hole, there are 3 possibilities. 1) If the hole is on your opponent’s side, the turn is over. 2) If the empty hole is on your side, and the opposite hole is empty, the turn is over. 3) If the empty hole is on your side, but the opposite cup has some seeds in it- you get to capture the seeds and place them in your pit to the right.
The whole game ends when one row is empty!
Now that you know how to play, let’s make a tegre/mancala game! Use a cardboard egg carton, which already has the 2 rows of 6 holes built-in. Paint it however you’d like- we used the colors of the Ethiopian flag. Once the paint has dried, cut off the top of the carton, and then cut it in half. Fasten it with glue or tape to the bottom of the egg carton (as seen in the bottom, right picture) so you have a section on either side of the game board, in order to collect the seeds from your opponent.
You can use seeds, little pebbles, or dried beans with your new game.
If you want to practice against a computer, try this on-line Mancala game- it is fun and builds strategic skills with 3 difficulty levels.