Traditional games of Southeast Asia

November 13, 2007, 1:20 pm
Filed under: East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mancala, Philippines, Singapore


Number of players: Two 

Materials used: Congkak board (normally made of wood), shells or seeds. 

How to play:

The aim is of the game is to collect as many seeds into the storehouses on the player’s side. The board has two rows of seven cups (houses) on each side and a larger compartment (storehouse) at each end. The houses are filled with 7 seeds each while storehouses are empty.

A player begins by scooping up all the seeds in any house on his side and drops a seed in the next house in clockwise direction. Whenever he passes his storehouse, the player will drop a seed in it as well. However, he will not have to deposit any into the opponent’s storehouse if he passes by it. The game continues where the last seed of each scoop is deposited.

If the seed drops into a house containing seeds, the player scoops up all the seed s in that house and continue distributing them. If the seed drops into the player’s house which is without seeds, the player is entitled to collect the seeds in his opponent’s house directly opposite his own. These seeds are deposited into his own storehouse. If the seed falls into an empty house belonging to the opponent, the player forfeits his turn and leaves his seeds in the opponent’s house. The opponent will then take his turn to play. 

The first round finishes when a player has no more seeds on his side. In the second round, players will redistribute seeds from whatever they collected in their storehouse from the first round and fill their houses. Beginning from left to right, seven seeds are placed in each house.

If one does not have enough seeds to fill his own houses, the remaining empty houses are considered ‘burnt’ and will be bypassed in the game. Leftover seeds are deposited into the respective storehouses. The loser of the first round gets to start. If a seed is accidentally dropped into a burnt house, it will go to the opponent’s storehouse. Play continues till one loses all his houses. 

Instructional videos can be viewed here.


Known as Sungka, the game is a traditional Filipino game played by two players.  

Number of players: Two  

Materials used: Wood  

How to play:

The aim is to collect stones or cowry shells in the player’s home base by dropping the shells around smaller house until the player is left with no shells. Whoever gathers the most number of shells in his base wins. 

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Number of players: 2
Materials used: made of wood, played with stones/shells/seeds

In Sulawesi, historically, the game was only played during grieving periods, after the death of a loved one. It was considered taboo to play the game at any other time. In Central Java, in pre-historic times, Congklak was used by farmers to calculate the seasons, to know the timing of planting and harvesting, as well as to predict the future.

Even within Indonesia, Congklak is known by different names from region to region. The most common name, Congklak, is taken from the cowrie shell, which is commonly used to play the game.  

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This is a game of wit played by the women in the past. 

Materials used: Congkak board made of wood and either shells, pebbles, rubber seeds, saga, tamarind seeds or small marbles as the seeds 

Number of players: Two 

How to play:

Two girls will sit face to face on the ground with the congkak board in between them. The total seeds used for the game depends on the number of pits in the congkak board. For example, if there are five pits on the congkak set, then there will be five seeds in each pit. These seeds are actually points for the players.

The left most corner of the player is the ‘Home’ for the player. The player starts the game by selecting and taking all of the seeds from one pit and putting the seeds one at a time in each pit including the player’s Home but not the opponent’s Home in a clockwise direction. The player will get to play another round if the last seed landed in her Home when she was distributing it in each pit during her turn. However, if the last seed landed on the empty pit on her side of the board, she loses her turn and will collect the seeds in the opposite pit and place them in her Home.

The first round will end when all the pits on one side are empty. The second round starts when the players start to fill in their pits with the seeds collected in their Home during the first round. If the pit is not filled, then it is considered ‘burnt’. In the second round of the game, the players will repeat the same way of playing except that they can’t fill the seeds in the ‘burnt’ pit. The game continues until one of the player surrenders.

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East Timor

This game is known as wari in East Timor. The wari board has six cups called ‘houses’ and a reservoir at each player’s each, to contain captured pieces. Players in rural places may simply make pits on the ground to play. 

Number of players: Two 

How to play: The game is similar to how it is played in Singapore and Malaysia.

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