Gebet’a – World’s Oldest Board Game

“One of the earlist evidence of the game are fragments of a pottery board and several rock cuts found in Aksumite Ethiopia in Matara (now in Eritrea) and Yeha (in Ethiopia), which are dated by archaeologists to between the 6th and 7th century AD; the game may have been mentioned by Giyorgis of Segla in his 14th century Ge’ez text “Mysteries of Heaven and Earth”, where he refers to a game called qarqis, a term used in Ge’ez to refer to both Gebet’a (Mancala) and Sant’araz (modern sent’erazh, Ethiopian Chess). The similarity of some aspects of the game to agricultural activity and the absence of a need for specialized equipment present the intriguing possibility that it could date to the beginnings of civilization itself; however, there is little verifiable evidence that the game is older than about 1300 years. Some purported evidence comes from the Kurna temple graffiti in Egypt, as reported by Parker in 1909 and Murray in his “Board games other than chess”. However, accurate dating of this graffiti seems to be unavailable, and what designs have been found by modern scholars generally resemble games common to the Roman world, rather than anything like Mancala.”

– Wikipedia

                 Wooden Mancala Board from West Africa


Equipment is typically a board, constructed of various materials, with a series of holes arranged in rows, usually two or four. Some games are more often played with holes dug in the earth, or carved in stone. The holes may be referred to as “depressions”, “pits”, or “houses”. Sometimes, large holes on the ends of the board, called stores, are used for holding the pieces. Playing pieces are seeds, beans, stones, cowry shells, or other small undifferentiated counters that are placed in and transferred about the holes during play. Nickernuts are one common example of pieces used. Board configurations vary among different games but also within variations of a given game; for example Endodoi is played on boards from 2 × 6 to 2 × 10.

With a two-rank board, players usually are considered to control their respective sides of the board, although moves often are made into the opponent’s side. With a four-rank board, players control an inner row and an outer row, and a player’s seeds will remain in these closest two rows unless the opponent captured them.

Depending on the last hole sown in a lap, a player may capture stones from the board. The exact requirements for capture, as well as what is done with captured stones, vary considerably among games. Typically, a capture requires sowing to end in a hole with a certain number of stones, ending across the board from stones in specific configurations, or landing in an empty hole adjacent to an opponents hole that contains one or more pieces.

The object of mancala games is usually to capture more stones than the opponent; sometimes, one seeks to leave the opponent with no legal move or to have your side empty first in order to win.

At the beginning of a player’s turn, they select a hole with seeds that will be sown around the board. This selection is often limited to holes on the current player’s side of the board, as well as holes with a certain minimum number of seeds.

In a process known as sowing, all the seeds from a hole are dropped one-by-one into subsequent holes in a motion wrapping around the board. Sowing is an apt name for this activity, since not only are many games traditionally played with seeds, but placing seeds one at a time in different holes reflects the physical act of sowing. If the sowing action stops after dropping the last seed, the game is considered a single lap game.

Multiple laps or relay sowing is a frequent feature of mancala games, although not universal. When relay sowing, if the last seed during sowing lands in an occupied hole, all the contents of that hole, including the last sown seed, are immediately resown from the hole. The process usually will continue until sowing ends in an empty hole. Another common way to receive “multiple laps” is when the final seed sown lands in your designated hole.

Many games from the Indian subcontinent use pussa-kanawa laps. These are like standard multilaps, but instead of continuing the movement with the contents of the last hole filled, a player continues with the next hole. A pussakanawa lap move will then end when a lap ends just prior to an empty hole. If a player ends his stone with a point move he gets a “free turn”

Depending on the last hole sown in a lap, a player may capture stones from the board. The exact requirements for capture, as well as what is done with captured stones, vary considerably among games. Typically, a capture requires sowing to end in a hole with a certain number of stones, ending across the board from stones in specific configurations, or landing in an empty hole adjacent to an opponents hole that contains one or more pieces.

Another common way of capturing is to capture the stones that reach a certain number of seeds at any moment.

Also, several games include the notion of capturing holes, and thus all seeds sown on a captured hole belong at the end of the game to the player who captured it.  – Wikipedia             –

——An African (Ethiopian) story ——

Once a man in the locale of Nebri forged a pleasing gebeta residence for his son. He finished it from the wood of an olive tree. When he was accomplished he showed his son how to play games on it. The child was really blissful to have such a pleasing thing, as good as in the sunrise when he went out with the cattle to the hollow where they grazed he took his gebeta residence along. Everywhere he went he carried his residence underneath his arm.
While he followed the cattle, he came on a organisation of erratic Somalis with their camels, collected around a tiny glow in a dry riverbed.
“Where in this nation of yours can a man get wood?” the Somalis asked.
“Why, here is wood,” the child said. And he gave them the excellent gebeta board, which they put in to the fire. As it went up in flames, the child began to cry:
“Oh, right divided where is my excellent gebeta residence which my father has forged for me?”
“Do not make such turmoil,” the Somalis said, as good as they gave him a excellent new blade in place of the game board.
The child took the blade as good as went divided with his cattle. As he wandered he came to a place where a man was digging a good in the silt of the riverbed, so which his goats could drink.
“The belligerent is hard,” the man said. “Lend me your blade to dig with.”
The child gave the man the knife, though the man dug so energetically with it which it broke.
“Ah, what has turn of my knife?” the child wailed.
“Quiet yourself,” the man said. “Take this stalk in the place.” And he gave the child a pleasing stalk embellished with china as good as copper.
The child went divided with his cattle as good as his spear. He met a celebration of hunters. When they saw him one ofthem said: “Lend me your spear, so which we might kill the lion we are trailing.”
The child gave him the spear, as good as the hunters went out as good as killed the lion. But in the track the missile of the stalk was splintered.
“See what you’ve finished with my spear!” the child cried.
“Don’t lift on so,” the hunter said. “Here is a equine for we in place of your spear.”
The hunter gave him a equine with excellent tanned hide trappings, as good as he proposed behind toward the village. On the approach he came to where a organisation of workmen were repair the highway. As they worked they caused a landslide, as good as the earth as good as rocks came down the towering with a good roar. The equine became fearful as good as ran away.
“Where is my horse?” the child cried. “You have finished him run away!”
“Don’t grieve,” the driver said. “Here is an axe.” And he gave the child a usual iron axe. The child took the mattock as good as one after another toward the village. He came to a woodcutter who said: “Lend me your vast mattock for this tree. My mattock is as well small.”
He loaned the woodcutter the axe, as good as the woodcutter chopped with it as good as pennyless it.
The child cried, as good as the woodcutter said: “Never mind, here is a prong of a tree.”
The child took the prong on his behind as good as when he came nearby the encampment a lady said: “Where did we find the wood? we need it for my fire.”
The child gave it to her, as good as she put it in the fire. As it went up in abandon he said: “Now where is my wood?”
“Here,” the lady said, “here is a excellent gebeta board.”
He took the gebeta residence underneath his arm as good as went home with the cattle. As he entered his residence his father smiled as good as said: “What is improved than a gebeta game residence to keep a tiny child out of trouble?”                               –


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2 Responses to Gebet’a – World’s Oldest Board Game

  1. ASEX says:


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