When you think of strange and unique countries, far removed from your own, undoubtedly one of the things that comes to mind amongst thoughts of new foods, scenery and cultures is the various games they might play to pass the time. Africa, the wide and varied continent it is, plays host to some odd, but also oddly entertaining African games, often played with just the things you literally have in front of you such as stones on the ground. Read on further to learn about the top ten games played throughout Africa, and maybe try something new out for yourself!
Thought to be one of the oldest games in the world, Mancala is played across the African continent, from the deserts to the North, all the way to the green fields and sandy beaches to the South. Each country has their own take on this African game, which is played with either a board, or with simply small holes in the ground or sand. The holes are arranged in two or four rows, and then small stones, marbles or even seeds are employed to be moved around with the aim being to capture more stones/marbles/seeds than your opponent. A popular game, Mancala literally means “to transfer” in Arabic, and is played throughout the continent by both adults and children.
This clapping, jumping, and moving game can be sometimes confused for more of a dance, this game starts with one person designated the leader jumping forward and then sticking a leg out. The aim of the game is to rack up 10 points by touching legs with your opponent, and the number of points gained depends on which legs touch. Everyone gets the chance to be the leader, and this game can be either played in groups of two people or in a semi-circle. This is also an African game that has been passed down from generations before, earning it a place in many Ghanian hearts.
Traditional African Games: Morabaraba/Umlabalaba (Southern Africa), Shax (Somalia), Achi (Ghana)
With the origins of the game still in question, this African game is similar to 3, 6, 9 or 12 Men’s Morris that is played in Europe and the West. The pieces used in the game are called ‘cows’ and the aim is to build ‘mills’ or rows of three in order to ‘shoot’ one of your opponent’s cows. This game was additionally used to teach herding boys the appreciation for tactical thinking, but has become popular everywhere.
Known to be one of the oldest games in the world, Senet dates from nearly 1300BC, and has been depicted on the tomb paintings of important Queens such as Nefertiti. Unfortunately, it appears that the Senet rules and gameplay instructions were passed on verbally, as virtually nothing explaining these important facts has ever been uncovered, and instead two historians devised rules to the best of their knowledge. What came out of it is a game similar in style and execution to Backgammon, where two sticks of black or white on each end of the board are used to move the pawns a variety of spaces over the board of 30 squares in three rows of ten.
Most versions of this African game need at least three players to really make it work. Players sit in a circle around a wooden or metal bowl filled with small stones or marbles, numbering between 20-30. The first player picks up a stone/marble and throws it in the air. While it’s in the air, all the other players try to grab as many stones or marbles as possible, and once everyone has had a go, the person who has collected the most is the winner.
A traditional game played in Northern Africa, this game is similar to Alquerque, the predecessor to checkers. This African game for two, players is divided into colours black and white – with black always playing first. Each player gets 40 pieces, and each piece can only move forward. Pieces are ‘captured’ by being hopped over by the opposing colour. If a piece manages to make it to the other end of the board, it is “kinged” as in checkers, and then is free to move freely in any direction the player chooses.
An extremely popular board game throughout Madagascar, Fanorona is hundreds of years old and is slightly based on the aforementioned Zamma, with similar rules as in checkers, with the difference being the 9×5 grid and the fact that some pieces can move diagonally as well as forwards, and each player only has half of what he has in Zamma. Legend has it that the son of the King was so busy playing this game that he failed to inherit the lands from his father.
Stockings is a jump rope game played mainly by girls all across Africa, and it’s even made its way overseas. The idea of stockings is a piece of rope (or even stockings!) is employed to try and catch the third player out. Two players stand on either end of the rope and swing it in a circular motion from the ankles progressively higher until the third player can no longer clear it by jumping. A fourth player can be added to increase difficulty as well, and sometimes a second rope can be used to make it even harder still.
Traditional African Games: Tsoro Yematutu, Zimbabwe
This is a strategic game thought to have originated in Zimbabwe which employs the use of a simple triangle with two equal sides. Each player is given three pieces with which to play, and the aim is to create a straight line of three of the pieces in a row on the board. In some versions the players are able to jump over the opponent in order to catch an open space, but in some variations this is against the rules. This game commonly ends in a draw and can go on for a while. It can be compared to the West’s version of X’s and O’s.
Traditional African Games: Dara, Derrah or Doki, Nigeria
In many ways similar to X’s and O’s, Dara is played on either a 6×7 or a 5×6 grid with each player having 12 stones each. Stones are placed alternately into the empty squares until a line of three is made. When this happens, you are allowed to take out one of the opponent’s pieces. The game ends when you are no longer able to make a line of three.