This is Africa’s Most Cherished Board Game

This is Africa’s Most Cherished Board Game

Looking at the picture, we all remember the game; Maybe you played it on a beautiful, ornate hand-carved board with seeds that were round and smooth. Or maybe you dug out holes in the earth and played with stones you found on the ground. But what matters is that you know the game.

Oware, Nchọ/Ókwè, Ayò
Oware, Nchọ/Ókwè, Ayò

It goes by many names in Africa and the diaspora. In the Ashanti region, it’s called Oware. Its variants have many names – Ayò, Ayoayo (Yoruba), Awalé (Ivory Coast), Wari (Mali), Ouri, Ouril or Uril (Cape Verde), Warri (Caribbean), Wali (Dagbani), Adji (Ewe), Nchọ/Ókwè (Igbo), ise (Edo) and Awélé (Ga). A familiar name in English is Awari, but one of the earliest Western scholars to study the game, Robert Sutherland Rattray, used the name Wari.

A wooden board with six pits on each side. The four-round seeds that sit in each gourd. The satisfying sound the seeds make when you drop them in each hole, one by one. And of course, the sweet accomplishment of getting to pick up seeds from your opponent’s side on the other half of the board. You know that game.

Oware is an Ashanti abstract strategy game among the Mancala family of board games (pit and pebble games) played worldwide with slight variations in the layout of the game, number of players, and play strategy. Its origin is uncertain, but it is widely believed to be of Ashanti origin.

Most of the oware available in Ghana is hand carved and comes with traditional symbols of the Asanti people carved into the wood. The traditional playing seeds are Bonduc seeds, a bright green seed with a hard shell.

The game is also used in education among the Asanti children for the development of maths skills.

The rules differ from country to country; however, Owarethere is an international organization that sets the standard, but the game’s basic objective is to capture more seeds than your opponent. This is done by landing the last seed you are “sowing” in a pit on the opponent’s side, containing one or two seeds. Other rules allow multiple captures and the avoidance of “stalemates.” The player who captured more seeds than his opponent when the game ends wins the match. It may also happen that both players have captured the same amount of seeds at the end. In this case, neither player wins the game, and the match is said to have ended in a draw.


The mythology behind the game.

Oware is one of the most played games in the Kalah Family of pit and pebbles games. It is the National game of Ghana, and the word “oware” means “He She Marries.”

The mythology behind the name is believed by many to be the result of a wedding between a man and a woman and the dowry (represented by fields (pits) and seeds. You’re playing for fruitful paddocks. As played in Ghana, the game is a social event and is commonly played on the street.

It’s played all over Africa and the diaspora, with variations on the rules worldwide. But to talk about it usually involves some description because it goes by a different name just about everywhere.

A brief history of the game.

The game has been traced back to ancient Egypt, where pits were found carved into tombs’ roofs. Some sources cite up to 200 different versions of the game. If you’re not in a place where you can easily find it and are thinking of getting a set for nostalgia’s sake, you can buy it online or even play it on your phone.


“When you play Warri with God, you get no seed.”
From Antigua.

“By the time the fool has learned the game, the players have dispersed.”
From Ghana.

Life hacks to be learned from the game.

What Goes Around, Comes Around

In the description, we mentioned above about how the game is being played; you remember that you start the game with four seeds and end with four seeds and in which you must move in an anti-clockwise direction till you get back to 4 seeds. When you start the game and move four seeds around, all the other seeds increase while some decrease as you move, but you still win when you come back to four seeds.

In life, this can interpret as the fact that the world moves in circles, and the wealth you have today, can increase or decrease, and what you do to your brother can get back to you. The seeds you send around can get you more or less but is dependent on how smart you are with the game of life.

Think Before You Act

If you act faster than you think in the oware game, you are surely losing the game. If you’re not observant and always in haste, you will lose. This is because if you see an opponent’s marble free to be able to pick. You rush, you might end up opening more chances for them because as you’re eager to win your opponent’s marble, you may have more free marbles behind you and the moment you end up with, you can give them the chance to swoop two houses. To make a move, just don’t rush because you see free marbles, think, and be sure you’ve protected all your marbles before making a move.

As the saying goes, “Hasty climbers have sudden falls,” and it’s true. Those who are always in haste to acquire everything in life always end up with nothing. We have to accept that everything is step by step, just as we learned to crawl, walk, and run. If you take a critical look at the way a ladder is designed, you notice if you don’t go step by step and decide to jump over the steps, you are likely to fall. In this situation, the oware game teaches us to be patient in life and take things one step at a time.

Opportunity Comes, But Once

While playing the game most times, you realize you have only one opportunity to fetch your opponent’s marble if you don’t do it or ignore it, you may end up realizing that’s all you needed to win over your opponent or capture his house.

Same in life, sometimes some opportunities pass you by, and you ignore, and later in life, you realize that’s all you needed to be successful. Take the chance when you have, and don’t let it go.

What is this game called in your dialect?