Board Game In North West Africa (Morocco)

R.E. Parry

Uganda Journal, Kampala, Vol. 4, 1936, pages 176-178

Map of Africa

[Page 176] I have read Mr. E. J. Wayland’s "Notes on the Board Game known as Mweso" in the July, 1936, number of the Journal with considerab1e interest because I saw a similar game being played in S. E. Morocco in August, 1927, when I was given permission by the French Authorities to enter the 'Insecure Zone'.

The photograph (Fig 1) that I took at Ain Bou Arfa, which is situated on the northern edge of the small Tamlelt Desert, shows the game in progress. Here it was known as “Sig” which possibly may be a Berber1 word since I have failed to trace it as being of Arabic origin, although Arabic is spoken in many of the South Atlas towns which are situated on the riverine oases along the margin of the great desert.

Figure 1

The 'Board' consists of 48 holes (4 by 12) made in the sand and the counters most frequently used consist of dried camel droppings (black), iron-stained nodules, or bleached date stones (white).

How the game was played in detail I cannot say but I noticed that four short sticks were tossed into the air and moves were made according to the arrangement of the sticks as they fell upon each other after each throw.

A variety of the game is apparently played in the Air Massif by the veiled Tuareg who use it for purposes of divination.

There the game, which is described by F. R. Rodd2, is played with a 'Board' of 36 holes marked in the sand, although Jean3 mentions 40. "Each player has 13 counters made or date stones, bits of wood, pebbles, or camel droppings. The object or the game is to surround a pawn belonging to one's adversary somewhat on the principle of "Noughts and Crosses". The game is called “Alkarhat”.

By kind permission of' the Editor and the Author, I quote below an extract from an article entitled "The Inhabitants Of The Gold Coast and the Ashanti Before The Akan Invasion", by Captain R.P. Wild, which appeared in the Teachers’ Journal (Gold Coast) Vol. VII, No. 2, 1935. This refers to Figure 2, which is also published by kind permission of the Editor and of Captain Wild.

"In 1931 Mr. O. A. L. Whitelaw of the Gold Coast Geological Survey found near Bibiani in the Sefwi district, a slab of red granite with a number of circular depressions or shallow pits on its surface (Fig. 2). It would appear that these depressions were ground into the surface of the stone. They vary from two to two and three-quarter inches in diameter and from a quarter to seven-sixteenths of an inch in depth. Two of the edges of the slab have every appearance of having been ground down and smoothed, but the others have obviously been broken. A study of the stone suggests, however, that it was approximately square in shape, with sides of seventeen inches. The surface of the slab shows signs of having been rubbed down, and it appears that an attempt has also been made to give some regularity to the saucer-shaped depressions which lie in four more or less parallel rows on its surface. It has been pointed out4 that the arrangement of the depressions suggests a game such as “Mancala5 which is akin to the Gold Coast game, "Warri". “Mancala” and "Warri" represent a type of game which is found in many parts of Africa and which is well-nigh universal, the fundamental feature of the type being the use of a board with small compartments into which seeds or pebbles are put. In East and Central Africa this kind of game exists under the name of "Bao", the board there being divided into four rows each containing eight little receptacles6. This example from East Africa coincides in one important respect with that from Bibiani, namely that there are four rows or receptacles, a fact which increases the probability that the stone slab from Bibiani was used for some kind of game. The universality of "Mancala" and kindred games among primitive tribes throughout the greater part of Africa suggests, moreover, that these games are of considerable antiquity, and, thus, though our evidence is meager, it is not unreasonable to decide that the Bibiani stone was made by the Nyame Akuma people.

The reports of the Geological Survey mention other similarly pitted slabs of stone which have been discovered in the Gold Coast7."


  1. The characteristic Berber tongue spoken in this part of Southern Morocco is Selha.

  2. Francis Rennell Rodd. The People of the Veil, (1036), p. 281.

  3. C. Jean. Les Touareg du Sud-Est; L'Air, Paris, (1909), p. 251.

  4. By Mr. Henry Balfour, F.R.S., of the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.

  5. Mancala” has some similarity to backgammon, being played with counters on a board in which there are a number of depressions or holes.

  6. The Uganda Protectorate, by Sir Harry Johnston, Volume II, p. 795, (Published by Hutchinson & Co., London, 1902).

  7. Gold Coast Geographical Survey Annual Report, 1926-27, p. 88.

Last update January 11, 2010