Excerpted from our Mancala Games booklet.

Mancala, or Wari is a game whose variations are played throughout sub-tropical Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and the West Indies. "Mancala" was originally an Arabic word and is the generic name used by anthropologists for this huge family of games. Because of its wide distribution around the world, it is difficult to trace the connections between all of the variations, but it seems to have originally spread outward from Egypt, and Arabia. Egyptian boards have been discovered which date from the Empire Age (circa 1580-1150 B.C). Several examples of Mancala-type boards were found among the other game boards at the Kurna temple in Upper Egypt (Completed in the reign of Seti I 1366-1333 B.C.), as well as at the temples of Karnak and Luxor. While it seems the Egyptians spread the game south into the depths of Africa, it may have been the eastern spread of Islam which brought it to India, and as far as the Philippines. Unlike other historic games played in Arabic countries, it is the only one said to have a purely Arabic name, suggesting that it was either a native invention, or at least had existed in Arabic countries from ancient times.

The earliest known mention of Mancala in Europe is in a description of West Africa in Richard Jobson's Golden Trade (1623). in which he described his 1620 ascent of the Gambia River. But unlike other games which may have returned to Europe with the crusaders, Mancala never gained a foothold in Europe (outside of areas influenced by Islam) until modern times.

There are a number of traditions which have been attached to Mancala games in various societies. In the "old world" Mancala games are primarily recreational, but in the West Indies there are more frequently religious connotations to its play. The New World version called Awari was often played in a house of mourning to amuse the spirit of the deceased until the body was buried. Scholars have speculated that these customs were brought by slaves from Africa where the beliefs may now be obsolete, or forgotten.

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