Thursday, December 26, 2013


This is the game I've played since I was 4 years old ...

Sungka is a Philippine mancala game which is today also played wherever Philippine migrants are living; e.g. in Taiwan, Germany, and the USA. Like the closely related congkak it is traditionally a women's game. Sungka was first described outside of Asia in 1894 by the American ethnologist Stewart Culin. 

Sungka is similar to many other Southern Asian mancala games such as naranj (Maldives), dakon (Java), congkak (Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia) and tchonka (Marianas). The game 
differs from kalah which is known in North America and Europe in being a multi-lap game. Another important difference is that the first move is executed simultaneously in sungka which is meant to balance the game. Sungka is distinguished from congkak by being played counterclockwise and also by some other minor rule differences. Sungka is an important means for creating identity, particularly for Philippine migrants. This can be seen in sungka competitions, which are organized in the Philippines, and in the representation of Philippine culture at cultural festivals through Sungka demonstrations. The identity forming function of the game is also a central theme in Sungka and Smiling Irish Eyes, A Boy discovers what it means to be Half-Irish and Half-Filipino by Natalie Gonzales-Sullaway. The feminist poet and communication scientist Alison M. De La Cruz wrote in 1999 a one-woman performance called Sungka, which analyses the societal and family-related expectations in regard to gender-specific behavior and sexuality, race and ethnic affiliation, by comparing it to a game of Sungka. De La Cruz also reflects in her performance how she has come to terms with her lesbian coming-out. Her poem That Age, which was part of the performance, has become well-known in the America. 

Moreover, sungka is still used by fortune tellers and prophets, which are called in the Philippines baybalin or maghuhula, for divinatory purposes.  Older people hope to find out with their help whether the journey of a youth is favorable at a certain day, and girls, whether they will marry one day, and, in case they will, when this will be. The game is usually played outdoors because there is a Filipino superstition about a house will burn 
down if it's played indoors. 

In past times, sungka boards were also used for mathematical calculations, which were researched by Indian ethnomathematicians. 

Although the sungka rules are not much different from those of congkak, sungka is perceived as a genuinely Philippine game by native players. 

How To Play Sunka

                                                                                      Initial position

The oblong game board (sungka(h)an), which is usually carved in wood (e.g., mahogany), consists of two rows of seven small pits each. I n addition, there are at either end a large store (bahay) for the captured stones.  Each player owns the store to his right.

In each small pit are initially seven counters (sigay), usually cowrie shells.

Sowing:  At each turn a player empties one of his small pits and then distributes its contents in a counterclockwise direction, one by one, into the following pits including his own store, but passing the opponents store.

  • If the last stone falls into a non-empty small pit, its contents are lifted and distributed in another lap.
  • If the last stone is dropped into the player's own store, the player gets a bonus move.
  • If the last stone is dropped into an empty pit, the move ends.
  • If the move ends by dropping the last stone into one of your own small pits you capture the stones in the opponent's pit directly across the board and your own stone. The captured stones are deposited in your store. However, if the opponent's pit is empty, nothing is captured.

The first move is played simultaneously. After that play is alternately. The first player to finish the first move may start the second move. However, in face-to-face play one player might start shortly after his opponent so that he could choose a response which would give him an advantage. There is no rule that actually could prevent such a tactic. So, in fact, the decision-making may be non-simultaneous.

You must move if you can. If you can't a player must pass until he can move again.

The game ends when no stones are left in the small pits.

The player who captures most stones wins the game.

Moves in mancala games consist of one or several laps (also known as sowings).  Sunka games, which have several laps (also called relay sowing), are known as multiple lap mancala games.

A lap consists of taking all the seeds from a pit and sowing them, one by one, into the following pits:

Taking the seeds from the only occupied hole


Sowing them

Usually mancala games have a predetermined sense of sowing. In all the examples here a counter-clockwise sense is used.

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