The game of Ayo, a traditional African game popular in the South Western Nigeria, dates back to the 20th century and it is regarded as a ‘spiritual’ game. It is almost the exclusive preserve of the elderly in mostly remote areas, who creates time for it, especially after a hectic time working on the farm.

The game is played by two individuals on a slate, with 12 circular openings, six on each side for both players. In the beginning, each hole contains four palm kernels or rocks (as the player find suitable). A player starts by spreading the rocks from any hole on his side sequentially into other holes, including those of his opponent, until the last rock piece goes in. If the last rock piece goes into a hole, which has other rock pieces, the player continues to play until he can build up a fresh hole to contain four rock pieces. This hole containing four rock pieces now belong to him, because he made up the numbers.

Basically, any player who adds the fourth rock piece in a hole wins the contents of that hole for keeps. He scoops out the four rock pieces to his side and out of play. However, if the last rock piece in the player’s possession ends up in a hole without an already present rock piece, it is his opponent’s turn to play. This is how the game of Ayo is played. The player who completes the most holes with four rock pieces wins the game.

Mabel Idika played the game while growing up and has fond memories of it, “while growing up, we had the Ayo game board at home and didn’t know what to do with it, until our uncle, Chaba returned from Ibadan where he served as a National Youth Corps Member’, he recalled. “He taught us how to play the game and we played it after school hours, until we became very good at it”.

This game is played during the day, as some believe that playing it at night can call up the spirit of the dead. Also, it helps to sharpen the numeric skills of children.

Traditionally, the board -measuring about 2 feet in length, 8 inches in width and 4 inches in depth – used for game is made of wood and carved with intricate designs. But, then, game boards can be made out of clay, rock or even simply making hollows in wet grounds, while game pieces can range anywhere from seeds to nuts to cowrie shells.

Even pebbles are acceptable, but it is important that the pieces are fairly uniform in size and shape. Recently, some players have begun to improvise with cardboards and plastic. The game is for two players at a time. In some versions of play, each player may have one or two advisers who whisper strategy to them, but they are not allowed to touch the rock-pieces or the board.

In very competitive games, advisers are not allowed.

Written by: Daniel Udechukwu

SI Magazine

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