07 June 2009

Ghetto Mancala

For those of you who don't know, Mancala is a family of board games primarily from Africa. The majority of variants involve a scenario in which "players begin by placing an equal number of seeds, prescribed by the variation in use, in each of the pits on the game board. A turn consists of removing all seeds from a pit, sowing the seeds (placing one in each of the following pits in sequence), and capturing based on the state of board." (http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mancala)

Sometime around age 11, my family purchased an inexpensive Mancala board and I began playing a variant called "Kalah" with my sister and step-brother. For a year we played regularly, but the game eventually lost its appeal.

The other day, I looked up some information on one of the tropical plants that I had grown in Texas. I began researching the plant's genus and came across some information on the nickernut. The nickernut is used in place of seeds in Caribbean Mancala games, and with that information, a flood of childhood memories returned to me.

I quickly researched Mancala games and re-learned how to play them. I decided to introduce my wife to the game later that evening. There was only one problem: I didn't have a Mancala board!

That's where "Ghetto Mancala" comes in.

In my part of the United States of America, improvised versions of things are often called "Ghetto something." The best example is "Ghetto Lemonade" - water flavored with lemon juice and small packets of sugar. In any case, I decided that, in order to play Mancala with my wife, I would have to create a "Ghetto Mancala" board.

The requirements? Twelve "pits" (six to a side), two "houses" (places to hoard captured seeds), and the seeds themselves (usually nickernuts, glass stones, or marbles). A "real" Mancala board looks like this:

My "Ghetto Mancala" board looks like this:

Oh yeah! Half an egg carton, kidney beans, and two baby cups! It worked well. The only problem was that it was a pain to scoop the kidney beans out of the egg carton with your fingers. Still, it worked, we played (until the little one decided to steal our "seeds"), and it was fun. I'm making a wooden Mancala board out of an old piece of oak that was rotting in our garage. When that's completed I'll only have the memory of the time that we played "Ghetto Mancala." ;-)