The game of “count and capture” is known by many names including Mancala, Bao, Owela, Omweso, Chuba. There are over 200 variations on rules. Game names are often based on the type of wood used for the board. Variations of boards could have 2, 3 or 4 rows of holes. When no board is at hand, players use rows of holes in the ground and small fruit, nuts or pebbles as game pieces.

The game and its various boards attract players, anthropologists and collectors. One of the first publications on the Mancala was by Stewart Cullin in 1894. Most of you are familiar with the name and work of this important anthropologist as the founder of Brooklyn Museums’ African Art Gallery. He suggested that the game has divination at its origin. 


Museums throughout the world display African Game Boards. Some are listed below. One of the largest boards reportedly is 6 ft tall held at the Scottish Lodge in Edinburgh. Several institutions organized special exhibits dedicated to Mancala Game Boards, including the 2008 Mancala Exposition at the UN Headquarters.


Please contact these museums in advance to ensure access to their game boards as not all Mancalas are on public display and some may be held in the archives:

  • Musee royale de l'Afrique Centrale, Tervuren, Belgium
  • Musée du quai Branly, Paris, France (reportedly over 40 boards)
  • Musee d'ethnographie de Geneve, Switzerland (11 boards)
  • British Museum (reportedly has the largest collection of Mancala game Boards – 119!)
  • American Museum of Natural History in New York (19 African Mancala type game boards)
  • University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, PA
  • Museo Afro-Brasiliero, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil


(1) H.J.R. Murray, A History of Board Games Other Than Chess, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952.

(2) Stewart Cullin, Mancala, the National Game of Africa. Annual Report of the U.S. National Museum 1894.
(3)Alexander J. De Voogt, Mancala Board Games, British Museum Press; 1st Ed. edition (July 1997)


Written by Vera Raskin — October 02, 2014

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