Many mancala games have inspired proverbs, which are used in daily life. The following sayings are not limited to games as technical terms or recommendations for good play.

Mancala Proverbs

A list of proverbs alphabetically arranged by the name of the game.

Ayo (Nigeria)

"You win, and I win, does not make for victory in an ayo game." (Yoruba: "Je kí nje kì í payò.")

Meaning: If every person succeeds, nobody is stronger than his adversary.

"In the midst of thorns, amid gnarled branches, ayo seeds are still soft." (Yoruba: "Ní inú ẹ̀gún, ní inú-u gọ̀gọ̀, ọmọ ayò a şara bòró.")

Meaning: A person who wants to succeed or achieve a goal, will do despite the adversities.

"If a child is a skillful player, somebody defeats it with a single seed. " (Yoruba: "Bí ọmọdé bá mọ ayò, ẹyọ la ó fi pa á.")

Meaning: A precocious child can get to do what an adult does, but it won't succeed.

Darra (Nigeria)

"It would be as easy for the pebbles of the Darra board to meet." (Hausa: "Enna darra'n gammi.")

Meaning: Might be said to a man who claims to have met you before and you deny it.

Giuthi (Kenya)

"You can't steal the cattle of another man without entering his land!"

Meaning: Victories are about taking risks.

Layli Goobalay (Somalia)

"Oh, Layli Goobalay! You are preferred by wise men and camels." (Somali: "Layli goobalay. Nin graad liyi gelu kugu yuus.")

Meaning: Players become rich because of their wisdom.

Isolo (Tanzania)

"If you gamble with [cowries], do not do so with a blind man, for he is certain to hide one under his feet."

Meaning: Speed allows deception. It is one reason why the game is played with such haste. While there are many interdictions about nocturnal play and gambling that deal with respect for supernatural powers, there is also the practical matter that reduced visibility gives the trickster an unnatural advantage

Lusolo (Congo)

"For him who does not count, Lusolo has burnt the stakes."

Meaning: You cannot win without thinking first.

Ô Ăn Quan (Vietnam)

"One move captures Mandarin piece." (Vietnamese: "Một đập ăn quan.")

Meaning: Said when a simple action is successful.

Omweso (Uganda)

"He knows it like a game of Omweso." (Luganda: "Akimanyi nga mweso.")

Meaning: A person who is an expert on something is compared to an Omweso master.

"He has put his hand in an empty hole." (Luganda: "Akutté mú lya 'mpiki.")

Meaning: The situation of a person who find his belongings missing, is compared to a player who all of a sudden finds an empty hole where he had hoped to collect seeds.

"A person whom you've taught Omweso, can beat you with 16 seeds." (Luganda: "Gw'oyigiriza okwesa akugobya.")

Meaning: A student can exceed his teacher's skills and wisdom some day.

"He is as small as an empiki." (Luganda: "Mumpi ng'empiki.")

Meaning: Metaphorical for a very small man.

Oware (Ghana)

"By the time the fool has learned the game, the players have dispersed."

Meaning: Oware is too difficult for the mentally handicapped.

"To play Oware, one has to know the rules." (Akan: "Nea onim oware mu na otoo.")

Meaning: As an argument for reinforcing social order (gender and power related).

"A stranger does not play Oware." (Akan: "Ohohoo mo oware")

Meaning: Oware is a game played among friends.

"We used to play Oware together but it has come to a stop." (Akan: "Me ne wo too oware a, yaba ano.")

Meaning: We are no longer friends.

Tsoro (Zimbabwe)

"A blind man does not inspect a game pit." (Shona: "Rema harimemi hunza.")

Meaning: No one should be asked, or expected to do the impossible.

Warri (Antigua)

"When you play Warri with God, you get no seed."

Meaning: God is omniscient.

Other Proverbs

Some Awale websites use proverbs to describe the rules, strategy and philosophy of their game.

The proverbs given at were created by the Catalan designer of the webpage.

A few examples:

  • “If you want to reap you must sow.”
  • “Who expects to receive, must learn to give.”
  • “The Seeds (sic!) are for the ones who need them. Who better sow (sic!) better will harvest.”
  • “Whoever destroys the land may not reap anymore.”

The proverbs found on are from Africa, but they aren't directly related to mancala.


  • "Until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter." (Igbo)
  • "If all seeds that fall were to grow, then no one could follow the path under the trees." (Akan)
  • "It is the woman whose child has been eaten by a witch who best knows the evils of witchcraft." (Nigeria)
  • "When you are eating with the devil, you must use a long spoon." (Igbo)
  • "When two elephants fight it is the grass that suffers." (Buganda)
  • "A man who pays respect to the great, paves the way for his own greatness." (Igbo)
  • "The hunter in pursuit of an elephant does not stop to throw stones at birds." (Buganda)
  • "The family is like the forest, if you are outside it is dense, if you are inside you see that each tree has its own position." (Akan)
  • "The sword does not recognise the head of the blacksmith who made it." (Yoruba)
  • "An old woman is always uneasy when dry bones are mentioned in a proverb." (Igbo)
  • "Before you ask a man for clothes, look at the clothes that he is wearing." (Yoruba)

See also


Agyeman-Duah, I., Appiah, A. & Appiah, P.
Bu Me Bé: Akan Proverbs. The Center for Intellectual Renewal, Accra (Ghana) 2001.
Biebuyck, D. P.
Lega Culture: Art, Initiation, and Moral Philosophy Among a Central African People. University of California Press, Berkeley CA (USA) 1973, 153.
Devlieger, P. J.
Frames of Reference in African Proverbs on Disability. In: International Journal of Disability, Development and Education 1999; 46 (4): 439 - 451.
Le Quellec, J.-L.
À propos d'un mythe Nyangatom d'origine du bétail. In: Cahiers Caribéens d'Egyptologie 2002; 3/4 (February/ March): 179-199.
Marin, G.
Somali Games. In: Man: The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 1931; 61: 506-507.
Menzel, B.
Goldgewichte aus Ghana. Museum für Völkerkunde, Westberlin (Germany) 1968.
Merrick, G.
Hausa Proverbs. Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co. Ltd., London (UK) 1905.
Nsimbi, M. B. 
Omweso: A Game People Play in Uganda (Occasional Paper #6). University of California, African Studies Center, Berkeley CA (USA) 1970.
Orde Browne, G. St J. G.
The Vanishing Tribes of Kenya: A Description of the Manners & Customs of the Primitive & Interesting Tribes Dwelling on the Vast Southern Slopes of Mount Kenya & Their Fast Disappearing Native Methods of Life. Seeley, Service & Co., London (UK) 1925, 125-128.
Owomoyela, O.
Preservation or Mummification? The Implications of Subjecting Traditional Texts to Modern Processes. In: Research in African Literatures 2007; 38 (3): 170-182.
Perani, J. & Smith, F. T.
The Visual Arts of Africa: Gender, Power, and Life Cycle Rituals. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River NJ (USA) 1998, 119.


© Ralf Gering
Under the CC by-sa 2.5 license.

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