Cheating Bay Khom by Sacrava

Cheating is common in many mancala games. This is true not only for casual play, but sometimes also for serious competitions. Jurij Nold described that in the early 1990s cheating often occured in Toguz Kumalak tournaments in Kazakhstan. Master players would stand behind the back of team mates and knock on their shoulders to indicate the correct move (e.g. knocked twice to hint to hole two). Cheating has also been reported from Bao la Kiswahili, Bay Khom, Choro, Enkeshui, Igisoro (where it is known as gukanga ("to betray")), Kalah, Kpo, Omweso, Oware (also known as Warri), Sungka and Um ed-Dyar. When African players cheat their opponents, holes may be missed or seeds are mysteriously "lost" in the game.

Another way of cheating in the game of Sungka was described by Berns Brijuega in his personal blog:

"The funny thing in this game is that (based on my experience), you don't know whether your opponent is honest enough in the game. Sometimes, he or she hides a shell or two in his or her hand just to have a continuous turn in the game. In local term, they call this as "nagipit" or holding a shell in the hand."

He also created a painting called "Amun Sungka", which shows an arbiter who tries to prevent cheating by looking at the hand of the player in turn very keenly.

The rapid play practiced in many games helps that cheating often goes unnoticed. In many cultures cheating is considered admirable behaviour, if done in a clever way without being detected. This rather permissive attitude in many cultures forces a player's opponent to never let his attention wander. As J. H. Driberg remarked: "He must all the time observe the player's hands and keep a constant count of the marbles in each hole in order to check the course of play. He has no rest between moves but must ever be mentally alert." Nonetheless, cheating wasn't acceptable to everyone in Africa as the following narrative tells:

"One day, Ndawa crossed the river Sewa to a town called Majeihu. He sat down to play a game of Warri with the people of the town and won his first game, but was cheated over the second and third games. His anger grew so great at this that he burned down the whole town while the people slept."

The Mende of Sierra Leone (1951)

In 1894, Stewart Culin wrote that "Cheating is practiced, and to guard against it players must raise their arms and throw the pieces upon the board with some violence." This might be the oldest written account about cheating in mancala games.

In 1997, the board game researcher Alex de Voogt asked the Zanzibarian Bao master Abdulrahim Muhiddin Foum to play blindfold and commented: "It is not the sort of stunt he is likely to duplicate back home, since no local player would risk the humiliation of losing to a man who is not even looking at the board. In any case it would be an open invitation to cheating, which is not unheard of in Bao strategy."

In 2008, the Cambodian poet Yim Guechsè wrote the poem Hun Sen Leng Bay Khom ("Hun Sen [the Prime Minister of Cambodia] plays cheating Bay Khom"). There is even a cartoon by Bun Heang Ung ("Sacrava") that shows the cheating politician.

In 2010 at Brettspielnetz, a beginner played a long sequence of opening moves in a game of Oware, which were perfect according to the Awari Oracle. This suggests that he cheated his opponent by using the Oracle.

The culture of cheating has been studied in video games, but not yet in mancala.

"Cheating is common and often attempted. If it is detected by a member of the opposing team, he simply retracts the move. This may even give the impression that someone is playing on the wrong side of the board."

Driedger on cheating in Enkeshui (1972)

External Links


Béart, C. 
Jeux et Jouets de l'Ouest Africain (Memorias No. 42). Centre IFAN, Dakar (Senegal) 1955, 512-514.
Consalvo, M.
Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Video Games. The MIT Press, Cambridge MA (USA) 2007.
Culin, S.
Mancala, the National Game of Africa. In: Annual Report of the U.S. National Museum 1894, 597-606.
Driberg, J. H.
The Game of Choro or Pereauni. In: Man: The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 1927 (114); 27: 168-172.
Driedger, W.
The Game of Bao or Mancala in East Africa. In: MILA (Institute of African Studies, University of Nairobi) 1972; 3 (1): 7-20.
Huylebrouck, D.
Afrika en wiskunde. VUBPRESS, Brussels (Belgium) 2005, 127-144.
Little, K. L.
The Mende of Sierra Leone: A West African People in Transition. Routledge & K. Paul, London (UK) 1951.
Mäyrä, F.
Gaming Culture at the Boundaries of Play. In: Game Studies: The International Journal of Computer Game Research 2010; 10 (1).
Nsimbi, M. B. 
Omweso: A Game People Play in Uganda (Occasional Paper #6). University of California, African Studies Center, Berkeley CA (USA) 1970.
Voogt, A. J. de.
Seeded Players: East African Game of Bao. In: Natural History (New York, USA) February 1998.

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