Two games
from Africa!

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The Game of Mancala

Clay mancala game board
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What you will make:

This project includes patterns and instructions for making game boards for two mancala games from different regions in Africa. The games are ba-awa, from the Twi people of Ghana in Africa, and kiuthi, played by the Masai tribe of Kenya. In both of these games, you "sow" seeds in holes and try to capture as many seeds as possible.

Mancala games are usually played on wood or molded clay game boards. In that spirit, the game boards in this project are made using homemade clay dough from the recipe included in the project.

At the end of this project page, learn more about the history and rules of Mancala.

Here's what you need:
  • Computer paper
  • Homemade clay dough (see recipe)
  • For dough: Salt, flour, vegetable oil, water, bowl, measuring cups and spoons, mixing spoon
  • Acrylic or poster paints
  • Paintbrush
  • Glue
  • Small ball or plastic egg
  • Cookie sheet and wire rack
  • Rolling pin
  • Toothpick
  • Oven and oven mitts
  • Optional: Knife, ruler, varnish or acrylic sealant

This project is rated AVERAGE to do.

How to Make a Mancala Game Board

Read all of the steps before starting.
Step 1: Choose a Pattern and Print It

Download and print two copies of the pattern for the mancala game board of your choice. The pattern is for half the game board, and is used to size and position the holes. After printing the patterns, cut them out on the black outline, cutting away the glue tab on one of the patterns. Glue the two halves together to complete your game board pattern.

Patterns are Adobe PDF files. The Adobe Reader is available for free.

All of Aunt Annie's project patterns are designed to be printed on standard letter-size paper (8.5"x11" or A4). When printing from Adobe Reader, you may need to select Auto-Rotate and Center or Choose paper source by PDF page size to ensure the best fit.

Step 2: Make Dough Clay
  • ½ cup salt
  • ¾ cup hot water
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  1. In a bowl, add salt to hot water. Stir until salt is dissolved.
  2. Add 1 cup of the all-purpose flour and 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil. Stir.
  3. Add the remaining flour and mix with your hands. Knead until well blended, keeping hands wet. Add more water if the dough is stiff. Add more flour if it is sticky.

Makes about 2 cups of dough clay.

Step 3: Mold Clay Mold clay into rectangle

Using your oiled hands and a rolling pin, pat and roll the clay into a rectangle on a lightly oiled cookie sheet. Use the printed pattern as a sizing guide. Be sure that the clay is a uniform thickness of about ½" to ¾".

Tip: Start by rolling a clay "snake" the required length, then pat the clay into the rectangular shape. Use the rolling pin to make an even thickness.

Step 4: Make Holes Make holes in the rolled dough using a plastic egg

Use the toothpick to poke a hole in the center of each circle on the printed pattern. Position the printed pattern over the board and push a toothpick into the clay through the center of each hole.

Press something round (a small ball, the end of a plastic egg, a large marble, etc.) into the clay at each hole mark. Use the printed pattern to see how big to make each hole. Smooth the clay around the edges, the ends, and the holes.

Step 5: Bake Dough

Bake the dough game board in an oven at 300 degrees for about an hour, or until dry and hard. Place the dry game board on a wire rack to cool.


Step 6: Paint Paint game board

Paint the board with acrylic paints or poster paints. Paint the holes in a contrasting color.

You can seal the board with varnish or an acrylic finish. This will make the board more durable, and keep poster paint from rubbing off.

Step 7: Play Mancala

Mancala is a two-player game. You will need 48 seeds, pebbles, or beans to play the game. Pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds work well. The object of the game is to capture the greatest number of seeds.

  1. Draw lots to see who goes first.
  2. Players sit opposite each other with the game board lengthwise between them. To start with, each player owns the holes on his or her side of the board.
  3. Setup board
    • Ba-awa: Four seeds are placed in each of the twelve holes. Each player uses the collecting hole on his or her right to store captured seeds.
      Ba-awa game setup
    • Kiuthi: Four seeds are placed in each of the center twelve holes. Each player uses the collecting hole on his or her right to store captured seeds.
      Kiuthi game setup

Play Ba-awa

Ba-awa is one of the simpler forms of mancala, and is more like the ancient version. It is played by the Twi people of Ghana in Africa.

  • A ba-awa game has several rounds or small "games". Who plays first alternates between the players with each round.
  • The first player lifts all of the seeds from any hole on his or her side of the board, then "sows" the seeds in a counter-clockwise direction into the next four holes, one by one. The player then picks up the seeds from the last hole sowed and continues sowing. This goes on until the last seed of a "sowing" goes into an empty hole. (This starting play will always have five "lifts" or "sowings".)
  • The other player lifts all the seeds from one of his or her holes and sows as before. Whenever a hole contains four seeds, the owner of that hole lifts the seeds and puts them in his/her storage hole. The player's turn ends if the last seed makes four in a hole or goes into an empty hole. Play alternates between the players until there are only eight seeds left in play. The starting player puts these seeds into his or her storage hole.
  • If one player has no seeds, the game is over; otherwise, another round is played.
  • To set up for the next round, each player puts four seeds into as many holes as possible. These are his or her holes for this round, and the round starts with the other player.
  • The rounds continue until one player has no seeds, but this can be very difficult when the two players are evenly matched. So, the game is often played until one of the players owns ten or eleven of the twelve holes.

Play Kiuthi

Kiuthi is played by the Masai tribe of Kenya. The rules are a bit more complex than ba-awa, and the play is more strategic.

  • The first player takes all the seeds from any hole (single seeds cannot be moved) on his or her side of the board. The player "sows" the seeds in a counter-clockwise direction into the next holes, one by one. The sowing must go into the opponent's row.
  • If the last seed falls in a loaded hole, those seeds are taken and sown in a clockwise direction. The play continues, with the directions alternating, until the last seed is sown in an empty hole.
  • If that hole is on the opponent's side, the turn ends. If it is on the player's side, the player captures that seed and the seeds in the opposite hole on the opponent's side. If the next holes on either side are empty, the seeds in the opposite hole(s) are captured. The captured seeds are placed in the player's collecting hole.
  • If the last seed is sown in an opponent's hole with three seeds, that hole becomes a "ram". Seeds in a ram cannot be lifted and sown, and the player's turn ends. The ram can be captured by this player later, by sowing his or her last seed in that hole. His or her turn ends with the capture of the ram.
  • The players alternate turns "sowing seeds" until both players have nothing but holes with one seed or rams. Each player moves the remaining seeds on his or her side to their collecting hole. The player with the most seeds is the winner.

That's it! Your game board is ready for a game of mancala!
Mancala game board made of clay

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About Mancala

Mancala is not one game, but a whole family of "pit and pebble" or "hole and seed" games. These games are played mostly in Africa. Mancala games are usually played on wood or molded clay game boards. In Africa, children often make game boards by digging pits in the dirt. Anything handy can be used as playing pieces—pebbles, seeds, beans, small sticks.

These games are thousands of years old, but their exact origin is lost. Mancala type games are played all over the world. They spread from Africa to Southeast Asia, South America, and the Caribbean islands. The name "mancala" can be traced to the Arabic word manqala. It is derived from the verb naqala, meaning to move. It is believed that mancala games originated near the Red Sea. Egyptian game boards from 3,500 years ago were found at Al-Qurna, Luxor, and Karnak.

Before you start:
  • Make a place to work.
  • Read all of the directions.
  • Gather everything you need to do the project.
  • Think about the project. Imagine how it will look and what you will do with it.

Are you ready?
Okay, get started!!!

ePaper Extra

Adinkra signs from the Twi people of Ghana on green, blue and purple backgrounds.

Tip: These ePapers feature Adinkra signs from the Twi people of Ghana in West Africa. Use one of Aunt Annie's Adinkra ePapers to make gift cards or to decorate a paper version of the Mancala game board.

Adinkra Gye Nyame, the most popular symbol used for decoration in Ghana


Unpainted dough clay mancala game board

Tip: Bake the dough clay game board until it just starts to show hints of brown and is dry.

Ba-awa game board with seeds

Tip: Be sure to make the holes large enough and deep enough to hold numerous seeds.

Ba-awa game board painted in two tones of green

Tip: Paint the holes and the game board in contrasting colors. Add any decorations you like to the game board.

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