Southeast Asian mancala

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The Congklak Gameboard from Indonesia c. 1900

Southeast Asian mancalas are a subtype of mancala games predominantly found in Southeast Asia. They are known as congklak (VOS Spelling: tjongklak), congkak, congka, and dakon in Indonesia, congkak in Malaysia and Brunei, and sungkâ in the Philippines. They differ from other mancala games in that the player's store is included in the placing of the seeds. Like other mancalas, they vary widely in terms of the rules and number of holes used.[1]


Ornate folding congklak from Indonesia with pebble seeds
Filipino boat-shaped sungkâ with cowrie shell seeds, along with sipà (rattan wicker ball) and kakasing (tops)

Southeast Asian mancalas are generally known by variations of similar cognates which are likely onomatopoeiac. The names have also come to mean the cowrie shells, predominantly used as the seeds of the game.[2] These names include congklak (VOS Spelling: tjongklak; also spelled as tsjongklak in Dutch sources), congkak, congka, and jogklak in Indonesia, congkak in Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore, and sungkâ (also spelled chonca or chongca by Spanish sources) in the Philippines.[1]

Historical records show that similar games also existed in Sri Lanka (where it is known as chonka) and India. In Tamilnadu, India, it is known as Pallanguzhi. A similar game is still found in the Maldives, where it is known as ohlvalhu (where valhu means "eight", so literally "eight holes"). It has also spread to the Marianas (where it is known as chongka) and Taiwan via relatively recent Filipino migrations.[1]

Other names for the game include dakon or dhakon (Javanese), kunggit (Philippines), dentuman lamban (Lampung), mokaotan, maggaleceng, aggalacang or nogarata (Sulawesi), and naranj (Maldives).[1] pallankuzhi (India Tamilnadu)


The oldest mancala game boards were found in a ruined fort of Roman Egypt and date back to the 4th century AD.[3] The original route of dispersal of mancalas into Southeast Asia is unknown. It may have originally entered Southeast Asia via Austronesian trading routes with South Asia.[1][4][5][6]

Indonesia has the largest variation of Southeast Asian mancalas and thus may be likely to be at least one of the major entry points, though this may also be just an artifact of the country's size. Where the characteristic Southeast Asian ruleset originates from is still unknown.[1]


An Indonesian congklak with two sets of nine instead of seven

Southeast Asian mancalas are played by two people on carved wooden elongated boat-shaped boards with cup-shaped holes. Most variants have two sets of seven holes for each player, plus two larger holes at each end which are known as the "stores" of the players. However, the number of holes can vary, ranging from three to nine or more (excluding the stores), and these variants (which can also differ in the rules) can coexist in one area.[1][7]

Mancala games are played with "seeds" or "counters", which are usually made from small cowrie shells, pebbles, or tamarind seeds. The holes in Southeast Asian mancalas are typically deeper and larger than variants in mainland Asia and Africa, since the seeds used are larger.[1] A total of 98 pieces are used in the seven-hole board version.[7]

In Indonesia, the holes are called anak ("child"), while the larger store holes are called indung ("mother").[8] In the Philippines, the holes are called bahay or balay ("house"), while the store hole is called ulo ("head").[9]


The rules for the most common seven-hole mancala versions in Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Maldives, Marianas, and the Philippines are almost identical. Each player controls the seven holes on the side of the board to their left, and their score is the number of seeds in their store holes. Seven seeds are placed in each small hole except for the players' store hole. The objective of the game is to capture more seeds in the store than one's opponent.

Both players begin simultaneously by scooping up all the seeds in any hole on their side. Each drops a seed into the next hole and continues clockwise depositing one seed into every hole thereafter. A player drops a seed into his store each time he passes it but does not deposit any into his opponent's store.

How the game continues, depends on where the last seed of each scoop is deposited.

  • If the seed drops into the player’s own store: the player scoops up the seeds from any of his holes and distributes them in the holes round the board but not in his opponent's store.
  • If the seed drops into a hole (on either side of the board) containing seed: The player scoops up all the seeds in that hole and continues distributing them as described above.
  • If the seed drops into the player’s hole which is without seeds: The player is entitled to collect the seeds in his opponent's store directly opposite his own. These seeds collected from his opponent's holes together with his last seed are deposited in his own store. If the opponent's store opposite his own is empty, he deposits only his last seed in his own store. He forfeits his turn and stops playing. It is the opponent's turn now to distribute the seeds.
  • If the seed drops into an empty hole belonging to the opponent: the player forfeits his turn and stops playing. He also forfeits his seeds and leaves it in the opponent's hole. It is the opponent's turn now to distribute the seeds.

The first round ends when a player has no more seeds in his holes. The remaining seeds are awarded to his opponent.

Play resumes in the second round with players redistributing seeds from their own store to their own holes. Beginning from left to right, seven seeds are placed in each hole. If a player does not have sufficient seeds to fill his own holes, the remaining holes are left empty and are considered 'burnt'. The leftover seeds are deposited into his own store. The opponent deposits excess seeds he has won into his own store.

The loser gets to start the second round. Play is continued as before but players will bypass 'burnt' holes and no seeds are to be dropped into these holes. If a seed is accidentally dropped into a 'burnt' holes, it is confiscated and stored in the opponent's store.

Play continues until one player loses all his holes or concedes defeat.

Cultural significance[edit]

The game is regarded as useful for developing certain mathematical principles.[10]

The second series Malaysian Ringgit 10 sen coin has a Congkak board on the reverse in recognition of the long history of congkak in Malaysia.

Dakon stones[edit]

A boat-shaped dakon in Java which is actually a name for an Bronze to Iron Age rock tool

In Java, the term "dakon stone" refers to the similarly pitmarked stones from the bronze-iron age period of Indonesia. These stones have rows of 4 or 5 cup-shaped holes (called "cupules" in archaeology) and two holes at each end, a formation which has much in common with that of congklak. This prehistoric dakon stones is unrelated to the game and were probably employed in ceremonies to propitiate ancestors. Such stones can be found around Java.[11][12]

Similar cup-shaped depressions are also found in other Austronesian cultures, most notably in Polynesia.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h de Voogt, Alex (2010). "Philippine Sungka and Cultural Contact in Southeast Asia" (PDF). Asian Ethnology. 69 (2): 333–342.
  2. ^ Alan M. Stevens (2004). Kamus Lengkap Indonesia Inggris. PT Mizan Publika. ISBN 978-979-433-387-7.
  3. ^ Forshee, Jill (2006). Culture and customs of Indonesia (illustrated ed.). illustrated Publisher Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 177. ISBN 978-0-313-33339-2.
  4. ^ Omar Farouk Bajunid (1989). Warisan kesenian Melaka. Asrama Za'aba, Universiti Malaya. p. 81. ISBN 978-983-99631-9-9.
  5. ^ James Moore, Julina Jamal, Nora Jamaluddin, Regina Fabiny Datuk Dr. The Islamic people copied the congkak from Indians. Paddy Schubert (Editor) (2003). The guide to Melaka, Malaysia. Leisure Guide Publishing. p. 264. ISBN 978-983-2241-09-6. {{cite book}}: |author= has generic name (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ Dhoraisingam, Samuel (2006). Peranakan Indians of Singapore and Melaka: Indian Babas and Nonyas--Chitty Melaka. Volume 14 of Local history and memoirs (illustrated ed.). Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. ISBN 978-981-230-346-2.
  7. ^ a b E. D. Wilkins, Sally (2002). Sports and games of medieval cultures (illustrated ed.). Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 53. ISBN 978-0-313-31711-8.
  8. ^ Kiernan, Jan; Reeves, Howard (2001). Asia counts: primary. Curriculum Press. p. 100. ISBN 978-1-86366-486-8.
  9. ^ "Sungka Rules". Retrieved 1 June 2019.
  10. ^ Peng Choon Wong, The Role of Traditional Games in Mathematics Education: Congkak as a Computer Game, Kuala Lumpur,1985
  11. ^ Sanday, Peggy Reeves (2004). Women at the Center: Life in a Modern Matriarchy (illustrated ed.). Cornell University Press. p. 57. ISBN 978-0-8014-8906-8.
  12. ^ van Heekeren, H.R. (1958). The bronze-iron age of Indonesia. Part 22 of Verhandelingen van het Koninklijk Instituut tovoor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde The Bronze-iron Age of Indonesia. M. Nijhoff. p. 177. ISBN 978-0-313-33339-2.
  13. ^ Wilson, Meredith; Ballard, Chris (2018). "Rock Art of the Pacific: Context and Intertextuality". In David, Bruno; McNiven, Ian J. (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology and Anthropology of Rock Art. Oxford University Press. pp. 221–252. ISBN 9780190844950.

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