Saturday, 2 April 2016

B is for... Bao

What on earth is Bao? Bao is a board game played all over Malawi. It's a "Count and Capture" game and the full Malawian version is thought to be the most complicated in Africa. I only know the basic version though!
Why am I telling you about bao? Well, it features (albeit fairly briefly) in The Wrong Kind of Clouds - Summer and LB play a few games of it. It's a game I learned to play when I was in Malawi.

bao board
My bao board

It's a deceptively simple game - you move counters (seeds in my version) around the spaces/hollows and 'capture' your opponent's counters. Each player starts out with two counters in each of the spaces in the board that are 'theirs' - the two rows nearest to them - but these counters cross and re-cross the board with each move. The game ends when one person has either no counters left in their front row of spaces or has only single seeds in every space. The more complicated version doesn't start with all the counters on the board and also makes use of the fact that two of the hollows are square rather than round. I have no idea how to play the full version!

I've seen bao played on large, ornate, beautifully carved boards, with glass beads for the counters and I've seen it played in hollows gouged into the dirt, with small stones used for the counters. My bao set is a "travel bao" set, bought for me by my great friend, Macdonald Nkhutabasa - and I've spent many wonderful hours playing (and losing soundly) against Macdonald or the street kids of Chimwemwe Children's Centre (a charity I work with in Malawi).

Me playing (and getting soundly beaten!) in Malawi with
the kids from Chimwemwe Children's Centre

Bao is played everywhere. If you ever go to Malawi, you'll have to learn! You can borrow bao boards in bars and cafes and Malawians are an incredibly friendly bunch. Someone will be able to teach you if you just ask.

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