Mancala is a classic African count-and-capture game for two players.
Enslaved Africans played this game as children. They brought the game with them form their homes in West Africa.
Mancala is an ancient family of board games, and there are numerous variants. Many different forms of Mancala are played across Africa, though the game may originally have come from ancient Sumeria.
History of Mancala
Mancala is essentially a game in which players "sow" and "capture" seeds. This process wasn't always played for fun; in fact, according to some historians, Mancala may have been an ancient record-keeping technique.
According to another theory, Mancala originated as a ritual related to the harvest, or as a tool for divination. According to the Awale.info website:
Game boards found at African temples and shrines suggest a different ritual associated with mancala. The game board represents the world and is laid east to west, in alignment with the rising and setting sun. The seeds or stones are the stars and the holes are the months of the year. Moving the seeds represents the gods moving through time and space and mancala predicts our fate.
Oldest Evidence of Mancala
According to some historians, Mancala may have originated with the dawn of civilization. There is limited evidence that the game was played 5,000 years ago in ancient Sumeria (modern day Iraq). While the people Sumeria had the mathematical knowledge to create such a game, however, it's more likely that the game is slightly more recent.
Clear evidence exists that Mancala (or something very similar) was played 3,600 years ago in ancient Sudan (on the upper Nile River).
Even more compelling is evidence that Mancala games were played in ancient Egypt before 1400 BCE. Evidence for this theory is available in the form of holes in the ground discovered in Egyptian temples at Tebas, Karnak, and Luxor. According to this theory, the game made its way from Egypt to other parts of Africa and the Middle East and, finally, to Asia and the United States.
Yet another possibility is that Mancala originated in other parts of Africa and made their way to Egypt over two thousand years ago. As forms of Mancala are played all over Africa, and very ancient Mancala boards have been found in Zimbabwe, Uganda, and Ghana, this theory may also be correct.
It is certain that Mancala came to the United States with enslaved Africans who had played the game as children.