The board game mancala is probably one of the most universal traditional game there is. The word itself is Arabic in origin, and the earliest evidence of this game found in Eritrea and Ethiopia suggest it has been around since 6th and 7th AD (Wikipedia). In the Philippines we call it sungka, and it might have been introduced to Filipinos by the Chinese. One will find sungka wherever there’s a Filipino migrant community such as Taiwan, Germany, or the US (Wikimanqala). That is odd because I don’t have any, and I really should — but an aunt convinced me a long time ago it was bad luck to play the game, or to play it inside the house, or to own a board. Maybe this negative association has to do with the fact that sungka is often played during wakes. But I digress.
In Nigeria it is more commonly known by its Yoruba term of ayo. In Brazil it is sometimes referred to as aiu in Portuguese, because many slaves from Nigeria brought the game to South America. A colleague introduced me to the game only last October and it is a great way to pass time. Unlike the Philippines where we play with cowry shells, ayo is played with seeds or pebbles. In ayo each pit is initially filled with four seeds, while sungka requires seven shells for each pit. I finally bought one in Lekki, the basic folding kind for N1,000, to teach my son turn-taking and develop his fine motor skills.
Another interesting fact about ayo is that my friends buy the board not to play but for display purposes and as tea light candle holders, and they do look nice lit or otherwise. That is probably why I am still looking for one like these.