WARI is one of many similar board games played in various parts of the world. Generically known as mancala games, they have been played for thousands of years in Egypt, where “boards” have been found carved into the stone of the pyramid of Cheops and the temples at Luxor and Karnak.


This cast bronze statuette is the work of the Ashanti tribe of Ghana, where oware is the national game (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oware). It is played throughout West Africa and the Caribbean. Among its many names are Ayo (Yoruba), Awalé (Côte d’Ivoire), Wari (Mali), Ouri, Ouril or Uril (Cape Verde), Warri (Caribbean), Adji (Ewe), and Awélé (Ga). A common name in English is Awari but one of the earliest Western scholars to study the game, R.S. Rattray, used the name Wari.


These Kenyan warriors have parked their spears to the side while playing wari. This photo comes from a book “Games of the World”, published by Swiss Committee for UNHCF in 1982. Reflecting traditional African values, players of Oware encourage participation by onlookers, making it one of the most social two-player games, providing a focus for entertainment and meeting others. The game, or variations of it, also had an important role in teaching arithmetic to African children.

African slaves brought mancala games to Surinam and the West Indies, where they survived unchanged. While in Africa, it is predominantly played my men, in Indonesia, the women dancers also play it to make their fingers supple for the intricate and elegant hand movements their dancing requires.

This board comes from Indonesia (I bought it from a Community Aid Abroad catalogue several years ago, and have had many hours of fun from it).


My game came with a batik bag of small cowrie shells (a variation for tourists?), but traditionally, dried seeds (in the Caribbean, seeds are typically smooth and shiny nickernuts), peas, beans, beads, ball bearings, stones and pebbles are used (48 in number).

The wari board has six cups or compartments, called “houses”, on each player’s side, and a reservoir at the end (or anywhere for that matter) to hold captured pieces. In rural areas, the ground may also be used as a board; players simply scoop two rows of pits out of the earth. This photo was taken by my friend Maggie, of her neighbour Ivoni, in Dili, East Timor, in 2006.


for more photos of this game see: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Oware

and here are a version of the rules: http://www.oware.org/rules.asp


2 Responses to “Oware/Wari”

  1. Sheree Says:

    Thanks for your informative post.

  2. Patricia Says:

    I’m doing photo research for a publisher for a school textbook.

    The authors would like to use the image of two Kenyan warriors playing the game of Wari on your site. Would you be able to supply a high-res (300dpi) version ( for print purposes) of the image?

    I’d be grateful if you could let me know as soon as possible whether or not you could supply such an image,as well as your fee for the use of the image. I will be able to give you details of the publication once I have your reply.

    With thanks and good wishes,

    Patricia R

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: