This will be a fairly short essay on an ancient African board game commonly regarded as being at the top of the list of traditional board games originating from the continent. The diary is also somewhat of a solicitation for support of a digitized version of the game and while I feel a bit sleazy about the solicitation part (its only small and at the end), I also feel there is no other sympathetic audience I can talk with and thus there will be understanding and appreciation at least of the bulk of the diary which is informative and educational about a popular chess-like strategy game played by millions of Africans over the ages. As penance perhaps I should commit myself to writing more diaries on this kind of cultural topic in the future to avoid being labelled as a crass opportunist on this occasion. So jump across and we can explore the board game.
One of the more widespread board games in Africa is called ‘Mancala’ (West Africa) or ‘Morabaraba’ (Southern Africa). Actually it is called by many other names throughout the continent depending on which country you are in. In fact the Morabaraba name is only particularly used in Botswana for this game and in a somewhat controversial reversal, in South Africa the name Morabaraba is used for another board game known in English as “Mills” or “Nine Men’s Morris”. It is not clear (at least to me) what Mancala is called in South Africa. Other names from across the continent and the Diaspora include ‘Bao’ (Malawi), ‘Oware’(Cameroon,Ghana),’Kigogo’ (Kenya), ‘Ayo’ (Nigeria), ‘Warri’ (Carribean) etc etc. As I live in Botswana permit me to use the name Morabaraba or Moraba for short, (you may use in your own mind the more common and perhaps simpler name, for English first speakers, Mancala).
Moraba (Mancala) is one of the oldest games in the world, dating back thousands of years. The game consists of holes or pits carved on the ground or on a wooden block with pebbles or gems used in the game play. Bowls of carved wood have also been used. Apparently pits have been found carved into the roofs of ancient Egyptian tombs in Luxor and Thebes indicating the ancients played the game as far back as then. There are said to be more than 200 versions of the game played throughout Africa and the world all with slightly different rules. For example in West Africa they use two rows of pits, while in Ethiopia they play with 3 rows, and in East and Southern Africa, they play with four rows. The number of bowls can vary from 8 to 16. Some games have "stores" or home bowls at the end of each board while others do not.
The game play is slightly different in Southern Africa than in West Africa where an extra 2 bowls are used as home bowls whereas in the South players elect one of the 8 or 16 bowls as home. The game has been described as a “count and capture game” as the aim is to capture as many pebbles as possible into one's home bowl. The strategy part comes from the fact that foresight can enable one to string together a series of moves that ends up with many pebbles captured by counting forward and memorising the potential outcome of a move; thus the similarity to chess in the West. The game is still played today, enjoyed by both children and adults across the globe in its traditional form although now on smart portable boards carved out of wood.
I have spent the last 14 months creating my electronic version of the Moraba (Mancala) game and I believe it will prove to be enjoyable by all lovers of the traditional board game and potential new recruits to the genre. (So now you know why I have been quiet on the blog for this long. It was really also because I was dealing with some life changing events in my family that made me too cranky to comment objectively on people’s diaries so I resorted to just lurking and punching the wall when I wanted to enter any particular flame war or so going on. But I am now slowly coming to the mend and will soon start commenting again on any diary of interest although I daresay I am not inclined to write diaries on political and controversial social issues. I am not a good writer in that line as I am more technical and staid on paper and so will bore people to death. Commenting is easier for techies like me.)
The app is called eMoraba and has been designed around a wooden board with 8 nicely cut bowls. The game play is the traditional one except that there are enhancements in the scoring that totally transforms the game into a highly charged contest between human and machine.
The iPad/iPhone version will soon be published.
I am just an Indie (sole independent developer) and would very much appreciate your support. Also you would be helping in the most direct and sustainable way possible international economic development especially in Africa where I live. Try out the game and invite friends to do the same (and political enemies as well, who knows they might lose and you get that win we are always striving for!!?)