Njombwa (Yao)

Meredith G. Sanderson, Medical Officer, Nyasaland

Journal of the Royal Anthropological Insitute
London, 43, 1913, pages 726-736


[Note:The composition of the board, playing pieces, and definitions are the same as for the game of Bau.]

[Page 731] There are several (different gambits for this game, which was played in every Yao village till ousted by "Bau." The arrangement and numbers of the holes are the same as in Bau, i.e., 4 rows of 8 (occasionally 9 or 10).

[Page 732] In one game all the men are first put on the board, two in every hole, to "prove" the number. They are then removed and put into the hole at the left-hand end of the back row. Two of them are then put in the second hole from the left of the back row and one in the third. The position is then:

Figure 6

The first player then spreads the two men in the second hole from the left to the right (along the back row), arriving at the fourth hole from the left. His opponent does the same and they continue spreading in like manner, in turn along the back row and back along the front row (from right to left). When one player in spreading arrives at an empty hole opposite to one in which his opponent has a man, he takes the latter and removes it from the board. His move then ends. His opponent then spreads the two men he has left, and, arriving at the hole opposite to that in which the first player has two, he takes them and also removes them from the board.

The first player then spreads the 29 men remaining in the end hole of the back row, starting at the next hole and putting one in each hole along the back row and back along the front and so on, till he has placed all the 29 men in the holes, arriving at the sixth hole from the right in the front row. The contents of this hole are then spread and the spreading continues as in Bau till the player arrives at an empty hole. His opponent then does the same and on arriving at an empty hole his move also ends. This completes the gambit. The position is then:

Figure 7

The game may also he played by putting one man in each hole to start with. The player then takes up the man in the right-hand end hole of the back row, adds it to the end hole of the front row, and spreads along the front row and along the back till he arrives at the last hole but one in the back row. He takes up both the men now in it and transfers them to the end hole (right-hand end). He then takes up the two men in the second hole from the right of his front row and removes them from the board, and his move ends.

[Page 733] The second player does the same and the gambit is complete. The position is then:

Figure 8

A third way of starting the game is to put two men in each ho1e; except the left end hole of the front row, which is empty, and the next hole in the front row, which has only one. (Cf. the Msuwa of the Anyanja.)

After any of these gambits the game proceeds in the same manner, though in the first there are 61 men on the board, in the second only 28, and in the third 29 (i.e. with eight holes in each row).

Men are taken from the opponent by spreading and arriving at an empty hole in the front row, not necessarily in one spread. The contents of the holes opposite to that arrived at, both in front and back row, are taken, and are removed from the board. The move then ends.

The spreading must always proceed from right to left in the front rows and from left to right in the back.

The move ends without taking if the player arrives at an empty hole not in "opposition." When a player is left with no hole containing more than one man he may move a "singleton" into the next hole, if empty, and, if such hole be in the front row and in opposition, he takes his opponent's man or men and removes it or them from the board.

At no period of the game can a man be taken from a hole in the back row if the corresponding hole in the front row be empty, though a man or men may be taken from a hole in the front row even if there be no man in its corresponding hole of the back row.

The game is won by taking all the opponent's men.


Last update January 11, 2010