The game of Mancala is believed to have originated in Africa. The earliest games were played by scooping holes from the earth and using pebbles or seashells as the moving pieces. Over time, game boards were created, and made of wood, clay or gold.
The term "Mancala" is Arabic, meaning "game of transferring." It is the only ancient game with an Arabic name that is still in existence, which hints that the game either originated in Arabia or existed around that part of the world for thousands of years. Since the creation of the game, several versions have developed over time.
Countries with diverse versions of the game include India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. There are many variations of game play, which has resulted in several different names due to its popularity among African tribes. Examples of African names include Wari, Ware, Walle, Awari, Aware and Awaoley. Wari is considered the most popular form of Mancala worldwide.
Though many cultures play this game for recreational purposes, some regions associate Mancala with religion. In the West Indies, for example, the game was played in a house while mourning a death, since it was thought that the spirit of the deceased found amusement in watching until the burial of his body.