Traditionally know as Ayo Olopon, this African board game is referred to as “The Game of the Intellectuals.
Ayo (pronounce aah-yoh) is a traditional game played by the Yoruba people who reside in South Western Nigeria. Unknown to a lot of people, this game requires a lot of brain power and mathematical skill.
Ayo is played in a carved wooden box, containing twelve holes (with six holes on each side), and 48 Ayo seeds (four seeds in each hole).
It is similar to the Oware game that is known across the Americas (a game originally introduced by slaves from Africa back in the days).
Ayo is of Yoruba origin, although it has other variances with historical attachment to the Yorubas who are ancestral cousins to the Warri tribe whose forefathers (with the Yoruba) were traded before the abolition of slave trade.
Surprisingly, the Ayo game also has identical rules with Endodoi, played by the Maasai people of Kenya and Tanzania.
According to the Yoruba Culture, the game is played in the evening after the day’s work. Many still hold the belief that only lazy men played the game before then.
Ayo means seeds and opon means holder. When you put both words together, it means “Seeds in the Holder” hence the name Ayo Olopon.
How the game is played:
Two individuals take turn to sit on the opposite sides of the wooden box, to play this game, which runs anti clockwise. The first player begins by moving seeds from his right hand side to the opponent’s side. If the seed-movement terminates in a hole with three or less Ayo seeds, this player picks up the seeds, and seeds from preceding holes. Players take turn until the seeds are exhausted. The player with upper hand is called Ota (meaning bullet), and the weak or the losing player is called Ope (meaning knowledgeable). Spectators’ comments on the direction of the game add colour to the game.
Ayo game is not just about moving seeds. It requires deep thought, and good strategy to move seeds with the ultimate aim to win. One wrong move could give the advantage to an opponent.
In some parts of the world, the Ayo game is often encouraged among children as it helps sharpen their mathematical skills and teach them real time strategizing.
There are some others that believe that Ayo is not just a recreational game, but one that has spiritual significance. This school of thought believes that it is played in a house of mourning to amuse the spirit of the dead before it is buried. At this point in time, it is very unlucky to play the game at night as the spirits will want to join in and may carry off the living at the end of the game. In this instance, they would have two types of boards, one with a flat top and one that is curved like a banana. When a man dies the villagers would play on the board that was not his favorite, so that his spirit would not want to join in.
Now that you know how the Ayo game helps with computation and strategy, make an attempt to join in the game when next you see the game being played. The comment section is open for you to share with us what other traditional games with surprising benefits that you know.