Origin and initial purpose of Manqala games
Nobody knows where were games originated. It is difficult to say precisely. There are different theories which have been difficult to prove, however. No written records have survived, if ever there was (see “Manqala Games in the World” and “Manqala games in Europe”, where you can learn more about the distribution of these games in the world in the recent past and nowadays). In this article we focus on exposing the main theories that try to explain its origins linked to its initial purpose.
The family games of sowing and capture, known as Mancala, have been played over thousands of years. Even though there is no general agreement about where and who were the first to play these games, through the evidence collected has earned the right to be known as the traditional board game world’s oldest.
Some authors believe that the similarities between all the varieties of mancala lead to the conclusion that, at some time in the distant past, they all originated in a single place. The most common belief is that mancala games were originated in ancient Sumeria or ancient Egypt.
From Sumeria to Egypt and other parts of Africa
Distinct versions differ on whom exactly were the first to play a game of Mancala style and use different approximate dates. Some authors maintain that the game was originated in Sudan 3600 years ago when some men of the Kush civilization in the upper Nile River used the technique of holes and pebbles with an accounting purpose.
Other historians go further back in time. They believe that mancala originated with the same purpose 5000 years ago in Sumeria, a part of ancient Mesopotamia located in what is today southern Iraq. These historians maintain that Arab traders brought the game to Egypt and other parts of Africa. The Sumerians are considered the first and oldest civilization in the world and the inventors of mathematics. The invention of arithmetic is attributed to urban life. They could know wealth, profits and losses account for trading and collecting taxes. These historians maintain that first the Assyrians and the Babylonians, and later pre-Islamic Arab traders brought these games to Egypt and other parts of Africa.
From ancient Egypt to other parts of Africa, the Middle East, Asia and America
Most historians believe mancala games originated in Egypt because this place has been the source of many other ancient games. It is said that Mancala games were played in Egypt before 1400bC. Based on these theories, the games of holes and seeds could be traced back to around the fifteenth to eleventh centuries BC. Rows of holes carved surviving from ancient Egypt have been discovered in the Kurna temple at Tebas. Others have been found at the entrance of the temple in Karnak and at the temple of Luxor. According to many authors, the origins are in the ancient Egypt. Then it spread from Egypt to many parts of Africa then to the Middle East. With Arab culture is brought to India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and China. When the control of the slave trade in Africa, which had dominated the Arabs first, was beginning to fall under the domain of the Europeans, the game was taken from many cultures in black Africa and was brought to the Caribbean area, Gulf of Mexico and part of the American continent.
From other parts of Africa to Egypt, the Middle East, Asia and America
Another theory is that mancala was originated in another part of Africa and was later introduced to Egypt and the Middle East, because these games are very widespread in Africa and there are so many different versions. Rock cut boards of great antiquity have been found at Zimbabwe, in Uganda and in Ghana. Some of these are unique and do not appear to have ever been played elsewhere. The African Diaspora in the West Indies and other parts of the Americas and the Middle East have brought with them their cultural heritage and have continued playing these games with different names and rules.
What was the original purpose of these games?
They were originally some kind of game? Mancala probably did not start as a game. What was its purpose? This is another mystery for historians. One theory is that mancala started as a record keeping system. Based on this theory, as we have mentioned above, there is evidence that it was invented by the Sumerians several thousand years as a system of record keeping having debit and credit entries. One side indicated money and goods received, and the other recorded sales or payments.
Another theory is that mancala was originally associated with a ritual. Authors ascribe either a recreational or a ritual purpose to the game. Ritual contexts include funerals, weddings, divinations and ceremonies. Any ritual associated can only be speculated on. There a few theories.
One theory is that mancala started as a spring planting ritual. Evidence to support this theory is that in many African societies was made or even are making an association between agriculture and these games. The holes represent fields and the laps of play represent the seasons of planting and harvesting.
Game boards found at African temples and shrines suggest a different ritual associated with mancala. The game board represents the world and is laid east to west, in alignment with the rising and setting sun. The seeds or stones are the stars and the holes are the months of the year. Moving the seeds represents the gods moving through time and space and mancala predicts our fate. The divination was also suggested as a possible source of these games of holes not too long ago. The divination was also suggested as a possible source of these games of holes and seeds not too long ago. This theory was already mentioned to the late nineteenth century.