Nigeria’s cultural history is replete with a lot of beautiful innovations that helped our forefathers relax and socialize, regardless of their technological state at the time.
One of such marvels that live on today, is the Ayo game — a Yoruba traditional board game, usually played by two people on a semi rectangular wooden board, composed of two rows of six carved holes each.
The board game, which is believed to have been named after the plant that bears the Ayo seeds, is quite popular in Nigeria and in neighbouring west African countries. Prior to the use of wooden boards, the game was played by digging holes into the ground, and placing 4 Ayo seeds into each hole (48 seeds in total). Apart from being a recreational game, there are reports that suggest that Ayo had a spiritual significance to the people of old.
According to Mancala Games (2004), Ayo was played to amuse the spirit of the dead before the corpse was buried.
“Each village would have two types of boards, one with a flat top and one with a curved top, a bit like a banana. When a man died the villagers would play on the board that was not his favourite, so that his spirit would not want to join in”
— Mancala Games
In recent times, however, there are no such superstitions surrounding the game, instead, Ayo is viewed as a purely recreational board game that has attracted even the younger generation.
The first player starts by picking all the seeds from one of his holes, and then moves in an anticlockwise manner, gradually dropping a seed in every hole (except the starting hole), until the last seed is dropped in an empty hole. If the hole belongs to the player in turn, he/she will take all the seeds in the opposing hole.
This continues, until one player cannot move anymore, and the game is over. The opponent will then take all the seeds that are left on the board, and the winner will be the player with the most seeds in his/her possession.