Papers About The Game

Traditional Mancala Board from Ghana

This page offers access to more than a dozen scholarly papers about this game. Many of the papers include diagrams and instructions for playing over 30 specific versions of the game. In general, the authors of these papers observed and/or participated in the play of a version of the game in one or more cultrures, and recorded information from their observations.

The name of this game - "mancala" - is spelled and pronounced in a number of ways, and is thought to be derived from an Arabic word (translated into English) meaning "to move". The use of this as a name for the game can be traced to Thomas Hyde, a professor of Arabic at the University of Oxford who wrote two books in Latin about games, i.e. - De Historia Shahiludii (1689), and De Historia Herdiludii (1694). Since that time the name "mancala" has been used to refer to not really one game, but a "family" of games which for the most part uses similar equipment, but varies in the method of play.

While the method of moving around the board differs from culture to culture and in game variations, winning requires that each player consciously COUNT the number of pieces under their control. The "movement" mode determines how these pieces may be used to CAPTURE an opponent's pieces. Thus a English name for this family of games regardless of culture or version is Count and Capture.

To see a number of handmade versions of this game from a number of countries, and to read more about the various cultural modes of play of this game, click on the left menu item "Count and Capture Games Page".

Many authors, historians, anthropologist, ethnologist, explorers, missionaries, civil servants, and others in their travels have observed people playing this game and have written copiously about what they have observed. Some of these observers were unaware of others who had observed similar games, for a number of these articles suggest the occurrence of the game is unique. This is not so as indicated by the excerpt by H.J.R. Murray. However, fortunately many of these latter authors provided detailed playing instructions for most of the games they observed. Often they accompanied their game descriptions with line drawings and at times photographs. Click on a title below to read the article.

Last update July 20, 2010