Traditionally played at a house of mourning, it was believed that upon completion of a game of Wauri the spirit of the dead person would have gone on to his or her place of calling.
The Wauri, or Mancala board, has a long standing history, not just in the Cayman Islands as a form of entertainment but also in Africa where the game originated.
“Slaves who played the games for entertainment brought it over to the Cayman Islands, but it was usually played to entertain the dead,” said local historian Twyla Vargas. “It is said that it assisted the spirit of the dead to be on its way. It was usually not played after 6pm as myths and legends has it that it would carry away the living along with the dead.”
Ms Vargas said, as years went by, the game in Cayman was handed down to generations as a form of entertainment. Although the game provides hours of fun, not many folks in the Cayman Islands know how to play it as the art died with slavery, she said.
“However, it is an interesting mathematical game when played,” she said. “It can teach children how to count, improve observation skills, instil analytical thinking and develop motor skills.”
The game is relatively simple to play, yet enticingly addictive. With a few power tools and a scrap of wood, you can make your own Mancala board. Just dig out a series of holes arranged in rows, usually six or eight. Not up to the cutting? Just get an empty egg tray and use the indentations.
Playing pieces are seeds, beans, stones, horse-eye, shells, or other small undifferentiated counters that are placed in and transferred about the holes during play. Nickernuts are one common example of pieces used by slaves in Cayman, then handed down among generations. Board configurations may vary in size. The objective of most two- and three-row mancala games is to capture more stones than the opponent.
The general method of the game is picking all the stones out of one pit and sowing them one at a time counterclockwise around the board. The game usually begins with four seeds in each pit. More can cause the game to drag on too long.
“It is a game if you not watching very closely someone will thief a piece but it is usually done with lots of fun,” Ms Vargas said.
According to Ms Vargas, the earliest knowledge of the Mancala is noted to be in the early sixth and seventh century back in Ethiopia, which is arguably the birthplace of the Mancala game.
A Mancala board hewn from a mahoe tree found washed ashore in Bodden Town can be viewed at the Cayman Islands Island National Museum. Ms Vargas crafted the piece because of its importance to Caymanian heritage in an effort to reflect and promote the Caymanian culture.