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Owari bead game

Palm bead game screenshot

Owari is a bead game played all across Africa. It has many spellings, more common variants being Awale, and Warri. It is from the Mancala class of games, which are count and capture bead games, with many different variations of rules. This variant is the one played by the old men in market places in Lome, Ghana, and other parts of West Africa. It is rumoured that it was to be played by kings to prove their strategic skills on accession to the throne in Ghana.

I have written a game, playable on the Palm Pilot that you can download at This includes English, French, German, and now Japanese versions. For folks browsing from their Palm, here are 'naked' Palm executables, in English, French, German. Japanese.

Rules can be found here.

This game is very old, I saw it played by old men in Mombasa, Lome, Mali and all countries in between. It is not a simple game, and has distinct beginning, mid-game and end-game strategies. For me, it was a great introduction to people who may not even share a common language with me, but we can still spend an entertaining afternoon together.

Other references

There are some excellent pictures of boards at this museum exhibit.

There are other links, and pictures, available at the Barbados photo gallery - and I quote from their pages :- Game board reverse

Barbados Warri is the island's oldest surviving game. It is a member of a great family of pit-and-pebble strategy games that originated in the Sudan over 3600 years ago when accountants and engineers of the ancient Kush Civilization of the Upper Nile (today's Sudan) used counters on a tablet with depressions to carry out mathematical calculations. As such, Warri could possibly be called a descendant of the first "computer game".

Two variants of the game came across the Atlantic in the 17th Century with the introduction of African peoples in the Caribbean to work as slaves in the colony's tobacco and sugar plantations. The two games were kept alive over the years entirely by word-of-mouth or what is known as the oral tradition, but games with such formidable technical integrity as Warri are for obvious reasons handed down from generation to generation of players very accurately, and so we are able to use these two to conclude that Barbados' anthropological heritage and is rooted strongly in Asante and Yoruba. A Yoruban version of the game, Ayo Ayo, became known as "Round-and-Round Warri" in Barbados, while the more popular Asante version, Oware, has become established here as Barbados Warri.

Because the rules of both games have been preserved so faithfully over the ages, they are counted among the island's finest cultural retentions. The name Warri comes from an Ijo dialect word meaning "houses".

Pit and pebble games are probably the most arithmetical of all games, but Warri can be introduced purely as a game of chance to very young children, and even at this level, it has subtle educational value in encouraging the child to count. He or she progressively also learns the concept of one-to-one correspondence as he drops each one seed into each of a sequence of consecutive holes. Soon he learns simple sums in order to evaluate options and keep score.



Game board You have six houses, your opponent has six. You pick up the beads from a house of your choosing (it must be one of yours) and sow them one by one anti- clockwise around the board, and examine the house where the last bead falls. Depending on the number now in this house, there are different courses of action.

If the last house does not have 2 or 3, no action is taken and it is the other players turn.

If the last house is one of your opponents and the number of beads is 2 or 3, you collect those beads. If you collect, then you may look at the next-to-last, and if that satisfies the same criteria, you collect those also.

If you play so many beads that they wrap around the board (more than 11) you do not 'sow' a bead in the house from which you picked up.

You must give your opponent a bead to play on her turn if you can. Rules are hazy regarding the case where your capture would remove all beads from her side. I consider that an illegal move. When you cannot feed a bead over, she collects all the beads left in the game, and the game is over.

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