Friday, July 22, 2011

An App for an Ancient Mancala Game is a Finalist in Android Contest!

Very interesting!  Mancala is, perhaps, the oldest "board" game of which we know.  It has often been described as a "counting game" - but I am not certain that is the best description of the game.

I do not pretend to understand how it is played!  It has "counters," which can be pebbles, or beans, or shells, or whatever, and a defined number of "scoops" or "holes" into which the player deposits them according to a certain strategy - or perhaps there are set rules -- for instance, upon a turn, each player must deposit at least 1 counter in each of the scoops and while playing may (but is not required to) also strategically place an additional number of counters in certain specified scoops.  The number of scoops or holes varies from African country to country, and even from village to village.  As far as I am aware, the scoops/holes are laid out in a rectangular pattern, never a square, never a circle. 

Originally from, link
no longer active.
Players each receive a certain number of counters, and then they take turns depositing a number of their counters, which they decide upon or are dictated by certain rules, into the scoops, as they take turns, one after the other, going  around the "board." Winners of a round take all of the counters in a particular scoop or scoops.  Eventually, the final winner ends up with "all the beans."  In earliest times, the mancala "board" was actually a series of holes scooped out of the earth in a particular rectangular form.  This image of a modern-day earthen-mancala "board" is from the paper discussed below. 

Some say that the roots of Mancala may be related to the earliest times of the invention of agriculture; others say that the roots of the game are buried in ancient divination rituals which were not recorded because there were no written languages back then, and no true memory of its original purpose survived to the time when the legends were first written down and/or recorded in the oral traditions.

The modern-day challenge - Africa: come up with new apps for the mega-popular Android!


5 Nigerians In The Android Developer Challenge Finals
Posted by Information Nigeria in Home » Technology on July 21, 2011

Five Nigerian App developers have made it to the finals of the Android Developer Challenge – Africa. In a contest dominated by South Africa, Kenya and surprisingly Nigeria. The finalists are battling for the 25,000 USD (4 Million Naira) to be awarded to each of the first place winners in the three categories. We made a post earlier on the challenge and some Nigerian App developers took up the challenge.

[Category] Entertainment / Media / Games
Human Droid, Kenya – a game that lets players battle one another virtually while in the same physical location.
What’s Happening?, Kenya – an events and entertainment finder in Nairobi that could be customized for other cities.
Matatu, Uganda – a two player competitive card game.
Slate Racer, South Africa – a time trial racing game.
Gliese - South Africa, a 2D platformer game.
Bawo Board Game, South Africa – an app for a popular African board game.
Afrinolly, Nigeria – an app to watch African movie trailers and track the stars.
Ha!! Buggy, Senegal – a fast-paced racing game.
Ayo, Nigeria – an app for an ancient board game of strategy from West Africa.

Information on Ayo (game) - check out this individual page from a (former?) Clark University student, absolutely fascinating.  She studied one particular carved wooden mancala board.  I don't have a date for this article, but she uses some photo credits from 2002, so it would date no later than that year.  This is a photograph of the particular board on which she was focused:

Gameboard. Yoruba (Nigeria). Abeokuta area. Wood. L. 22 in. Collection:
Worcester African Cultural Center. Photograph: Jean M. Borgatti.

Ayo: The Yoruba Game Board
by Meaghan O'Connell
These types of game boards are usually found in the town square. They are carved out of large tree trunks, along which many games that can take place at the same time. The game is played with two people, each person sitting on either of the longer sides of the board. Four seeds are placed in each of the carved wooden pockets. The row of six pockets closest to each player is considered theirs to try to keep filled with seeds. The players take turns by picking up all of the seeds from one of the pockets and distributing one seed to each of the pockets in order. The first player to empty the other player’s six pockets wins the game. It may be inferred that the way this game is played, face-to-face, reflects the values of the culture pertaining to interactions amongst people. Yoruba people prefer interacting with others face-to-face, or directly, rather than sending messages through other people. This value is revealed in the playing of Ayo. I also learned about who would own such an elaborate game board such as the one that I have chosen to research. I discovered that due to the elaborate carvings on the sides, it would usually be owned by a religious person of stature.

The name mankala or mancala as it is sometimes written is derived from the Arabic word naqala, meaning “to move something around.” Mankala is actually a general name for the many variations of the game that are played throughout Africa, as well as many other parts of the world. The names of the game boards are usually determined by what type of seed is used for playing, and game boards may vary as far as the number of rows of pockets is concerned as well as slight variations in the rules. Because the art piece I am researching is from the Yoruba people, from now on I will refer to it as Ayo; but the Yoruba people will also refer to it as Ayoayo, meaning “real ayo,” which distinguishes the male version, from those played by women and children.

Ayo is usually played during the day, after work is finished. It is not just a game for the older crowd; in fact, many young children learn how to play Ayo in order to sharpen their math skills. Ayo is generally played by people of the same age group and gender, meaning men play with men, women play with other women, and children play amongst themselves. The mixing of these groups is very uncommon. As a tradition of African society and the belief of male superiority, males and especially elders commonly separate themselves from women and children in order to display their masculinity and authority.

Some resources state that Ayo is not just a recreational game, but that it also has spiritual significance:

“It is played in a house of mourning to amuse the spirit of the dead before it is buried. It is very unlucky to play the game at night as the spirits will want to join in and may carry off the living at the end of the game. Each village would have two types of boards, one with a flat top and one with a curved top, a bit like a banana. When a man died the villagers would play on the board that was not his favorite, so that his spirit would not want to join in” (Mancala Games 2004).

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