Congkak



Congkak is a popular game of logic played throughout Asia, Africa and the Americas, with many adaptations.1 Known elsewhere as mancala, the version commonly played in the Malay Archipelago requires two players to share a wooden board with one row of seven holes along each side, and one bigger hole at either end. The two rows of seven holes are designated as “houses” in the “village” (kampong) while the last two larger holes serve as “storehouses”, although there are variations.2 Seeds are placed in each hole, and then redistributed according to the rules of the game. The objective is to gain as many seeds in one’s storehouse as possible.3 A popular game in the past, the attractiveness of congkak began declining in the 1980s as Singapore became more urbanised.4

Origins
The game is believed to have originated from the Middle East, where it was known as mancala (Arabic for “move”) in Arabia.5 The earliest discovery of the board game was made in Jordan, dating between 7,000 BC and 5,000 BC.6 The game was probably brought by Arab or African traders travelling to China and beyond on their trade travels.7 The game is believed to have spread throughout Southeast Asia, similarly through merchants via the trading post of Malacca.8 The game became popular among the wider population, particularly among Malays and Peranakans or Straits-born Chinese.9 There are thus unique Malay terms for the rules of the game.10


The game is known throughout the world and has up to 250 names, with some taking on the name of the board or the playing pieces.11 There are various explanations for the name congkak.12 Early sources suggest that the name refers to the Chinese junk, as evidenced by the design of many traditional congkak boards othat are boat-shaped.13 However, it is commonly believed that congkak (also chongkak, jongkak14 or chunca15) could be Indonesian for “cowrie shell”, which was traditionally used as the game counters.16 The Tamil name for the game, pallang koolhi, also makes reference to the cowrie shell.17 Other explanations indicate that congkak is a traditional term for “counting mentally”.18

Whereas in Africa the game is often played by men, congkak was predominantly a woman’s game in south India, Ceylon, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines traditionally.19 Women were often seen playing it at the open verandah of their kampong (village) homes or under shady trees.20 Peranakan ladies also often chewed betel leaf while they played. Among Peranakan Indians, pallang koolhi is believed to have been introduced in South India, and the game was played during festivities such as wedding celebrations.21

Game equipment
The game requires a wooden block (papan congkak), which was originally hand-carved.22 Congkak boards were generally made of mahogany or teak, and sometimes carved with elaborate decorations and images.23 In Java, the board is often boat-shaped,24 and some early studies of Malayan congkak described the Malayan board as having a similar design.25 Congkak boards sometimes featured dragons on either side, although this design soon diminished as Islam gained predominance.26 The petalawati, a mythical bird, is sometimes carved at the head of the board.27 It is, however, believed that in its original form, no boards were used for congkak, and the game was played by having holes dug in the ground for placing rounded stones or later, rubber seeds.28


Each board has between 16 to 18 holes carved out in two rows.29 In the more commonly used 16-hole congkak board, seven holes are designated as “houses” in the “village” (kampong) while the last two larger holes serve as “storehouses” (rumah) located on either end of the block. Variants of the game may have up to nine holes for the village.30

The number of counters (seeds) per hole is tied to the total number of houses per village. Thus a board with seven houses per village will begin with seven counters per house.31 In the past, nut-like seeds known as buah gorek in Java and buah kelichi in Malacca were commonly used in the game.32 In Southeast Asia, cowrie shells or tamarind seeds were traditionally used, although any other handy alternatives such as marbles, rubber seeds, and saga seeds are used in more modern times.33

Game rules

When playing congkak, two players compete to collect the largest number of seeds in their respective storehouses. Sitting at opposites ends, each player owns the row of houses directly in front of him and the storehouse on his left.34 Up to 98 seeds are distributed to every house.35


In the first stage of play, players play concurrently, beginning with any one of their houses and dropping seeds rapidly and noisily clockwise into each house until each player had emptied all the seeds in his hand.36 On his round, a seed is placed in a player’s storehouse, but not his opponent’s.37 On ending his round, the player scoops up all the seeds of the house that he has dropped his last seed in, and the process is repeated until the last seed is dropped into an empty house. If the last seed falls into a house that is part of a player’s village, he can pick all the seeds from his opponent’s house that lies opposite it, and deposit it in his own storehouse. If it drops into his storehouse, he can continue the game, picking a house of his choice from his side.38 When the last seed drops into an empty house, he is considered ”dead” and ends his turn.39 His opponent continues until he similarly ends his turn.40

The next stage involves taking turns using the same rules as the first stage.41 This stage ends when one player has emptied all his houses.42

In the last stage, players redistribute the seeds in their storehouse into their respective village by placing seven seeds in each house, starting from the left-most house.43 If there are more seeds, the rest is returned to the player’s storehouse. If there are insufficient seeds, an empty house is considered “burnt” and no seeds should be deposited there during this stage of the game. Should a player accidentally drop a seed in a burnt house, his seed will go to his opponent’s storehouse. They take turns playing during this stage, with the player with the least number of seeds going first. The same rules of continuing or stopping a turn apply.44 The game ends when one player has all his houses burnt or has lost all his seeds.45

If players are able to make use of the rules to predict the play through mathematical calculations and keep a close count of the seeds, they may have an advantage if they anticipate correctly where the different moves may end with different patterns of seed selection.46



Author

Bonny Tan



References
1. Barnes, R. H. (1975). Mancala in Kedang: A structural test. Bijdragen tot de Taal, Land-en Volkenkunde, 131(1), 67–85, pp. 69–70. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Desikan, P. (2008, April–June). Chongkak challenge. The Peranakan. Retrieved 2016, October 27 from The Peranakan Association Singapore website: http://peranakan.org.sg/magazine/2008/2008_Issue_2.pdf
2. Desikan, P. (2008, April–June). Chongkak challenge. The Peranakan. Retrieved 2016, October 27 from The Peranakan Association Singapore website: http://peranakan.org.sg/magazine/2008/2008_Issue_2.pdf
3. Barnes, R. H. (1975). Mancala in Kedang: A structural test. Bijdragen tot de Taal, Land-en Volkenkunde, 131(1), 67–85, pp. 69–70. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
4. Yaakub Rashid. (1981, October 6). Revival of congkak. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Barnes, R. H. (1975). Mancala in Kedang: A structural test. Bijdragen tot de Taal, Land-en Volkenkunde, 131(1), 67–85, pp. 69–70. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Desikan, P. (2008, April–June). Chongkak challenge. The Peranakan. Retrieved 2016, October 27 from The Peranakan Association Singapore website: http://peranakan.org.sg/magazine/2008/2008_Issue_2.pdf
6. Lim, R. (Ed.). (2006). Gateway to Asian games. Singapore: Asiapac Books, p. 81. (Call no.: JRSING 790.15095 GAT)
7. Desikan, P. (2008, April–June). Chongkak challenge. The Peranakan. Retrieved 2016, October 27 from The Peranakan Association Singapore website: http://peranakan.org.sg/magazine/2008/2008_Issue_2.pdf; Lim, R. (Ed.). (2006). Gateway to Asian games. Singapore: Asiapac Books, p. 81. (Call no.: JRSING 790.15095 GAT)
8. Rohana Mustaffa. (2009, March 25). Congkak, the heritage and contemporary game. Bernama. Retrieved 2016, October 27 from website: http://web10.bernama.com/finance/news.php?id=398869
9. Lim, C. G. S. (2003). Gateway to Peranakan culture. Singapore: Asiapac, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING 305.8951 LIM)
10. Chan, M. (2010, February 3). Congkak, a game that connects us with the world. Retrieved 2016, October 18 from Singapore Management University, Institutional Knowledge website: http://ink.library.smu.edu.sg/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2364&context=soss_research
11. Wilkins, S. E. D. (2002). Sports and games of medieval cultures. Greenwood Publishing Group, p. 22. Retrieved 2016, October 18 from Google Books website: https://books.google.com.sg/books?id=IyFHvy-SCIYC&lpg=PA22&ots=jICq9W557r&dq=congkak%20%22250%20names%22&pg=PA22#v=onepage&q=congkak%20%22250%20names%22&f=false
12. Hellier, M. (1907, December). Note on the Malay Game 'Jongkak'. Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 49, 93. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg; Desikan, P. (2008, April–June). Chongkak challenge. The Peranakan. Retrieved 2016, October 27 from The Peranakan Association Singapore website: http://peranakan.org.sg/magazine/2008/2008_Issue_2.pdf
13. Hellier, M. (1907, December). Note on the Malay Game ‘Jongkak’. Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 49, 93. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
14. Hellier, M. (1907, December). Note on the Malay Game 'Jongkak'. Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 49, 93. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg

15. Avedon, E. M. (2010, February 5). Chunca (Chungcajon): Game from the Philippines. Retrieved 2017, May 24 from Elliott Avendon Virtual Museum of Games website: http://healthy.uwaterloo.ca/museum/VirtualExhibits/countcap/pages/chunca.html
16. Desikan, P. (2008, April–June). Chongkak challenge. The Peranakan. Retrieved 2016, October 27 from The Peranakan Association Singapore website: http://peranakan.org.sg/magazine/2008/2008_Issue_2.pdf
17. Samuel, D. S. (2006). Peranakan Indians of Singapore and Melaka: Indian Babas and Nonyas – Chitty Melaka. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 53. (Call no.: RSING 305.8950595 SAM); Desikan, P. (2008, April–June). Chongkak challenge. The Peranakan. Retrieved 2016, October 27 from The Peranakan Association Singapore website: http://peranakan.org.sg/magazine/2008/2008_Issue_2.pdf
18. Rohana Mustaffa. (2009, March 25). Congkak, the heritage and contemporary game. Bernama. Retrieved 2016, October 27 from website: http://web10.bernama.com/finance/news.php?id=398869
19. Barnes, R. H. (1975). Mancala in Kedang: A structural test. Bijdragen tot de Taal, Land-en Volkenkunde, 131(1), 67–85, pp. 69–70. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
20. Yaakub Rashid. (1981, October 6). Revival of congkak. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Samuel, D. S. (2006). Peranakan Indians of Singapore and Melaka: Indian Babas and Nonyas – Chitty Melaka. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, pp. 51, 69. (Call no.: RSING 305.8950595 SAM)
22. Skeat, W. W. (1900). Malay magic: Being an introduction to the folklore and popular religion of the Malay Peninsula. London: Macmillan, p. 486. (Call no.: RCLOS 398.4 SKE-[GH])
23. National Heritage Board. (2016). Traditional Malay games. Retrieved 2016, October 21 from Roots website: https://roots.sg/learn/stories/traditional-malay-games/story
24. Expat Web Site Association Jakarta, Indonesia. (2016). Congkak, a traditional game of Indonesia. Retrieved 2016, October 21 from Living in Indonesia website: https://www.expat.or.id/info/congklak.html; Wilkinson, R. J. (1910). Papers on Malay subjects: Life and customs Part III: Malay amusements. Kuala Lumpur: F. M. S. Govt. Press, p. 58. Retrieved from BookSG.
25. Rohana Mustaffa. (2009, March 25). Congkak, the heritage and contemporary game. Bernama. Retrieved 2016, October 27 from website: http://web10.bernama.com/finance/news.php?id=398869
26. Lim, R. (Ed.). (2006). Gateway to Asian games. Singapore: Asiapac Books, p. 82. (Call no.: JRSING 790.15095 GAT); Rohana Mustaffa. (2009, March 25). Congkak, the heritage and contemporary game. Bernama. Retrieved 2016, October 27 from website: http://web10.bernama.com/finance/news.php?id=398869
27. Rohana Mustaffa. (2009, March 25). Congkak, the heritage and contemporary game. Bernama. Retrieved 2016, October 27 from website: http://web10.bernama.com/finance/news.php?id=398869
28. Yaakub Rashid. (1991, June 3). From rubber seeds to marbles. The Straits Times, p. 47. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Lim, R. (Ed.). (2006). Gateway to Asian games. Singapore: Asiapac Books, p. 82. (Call no.: JRSING 790.15095 GAT)
30. Desikan, P. (2008, April–June). Chongkak challenge. The Peranakan. Retrieved 2016, October 27 from The Peranakan Association Singapore website: http://peranakan.org.sg/magazine/2008/2008_Issue_2.pdf
31. Inon Shaharuddin Abdul Rahman. (Ed.). (1998). Inventory of ASEAN: Traditional games and sports. Malaysia: ASEAN Committee on Culture and Information, p. 21. (Call no.: RSING 796.0959 INV)
32. Skeat, W. W. (1900). Malay magic: Being an introduction to the folklore and popular religion of the Malay Peninsula. London: Macmillan, p. 486. (Call no.: RCLOS 398.4 SKE -[GH])
33. Hellier, M. (1907, December). Note on the Malay Game 'Jongkak'. Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 49, 93. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg; Yaakub Rashid. (1981, October 6). Revival of congkak. The Straits Times, p. 4; Yaakub Rashid. (1991, June 3). From rubber seeds to marbles. The Straits Times, p. 47. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Lim, R. (Ed.). (2006). Gateway to Asian games. Singapore: Asiapac Books, pp. 82–83. (Call no.: JRSING 790.15095 GAT)
35. Inon Shaharuddin Abdul Rahman. (Ed.). (1998). Inventory of ASEAN traditional games and sports. Malaysia: ASEAN Committee on Culture and Information, p. 102. (Call no.: RSING 796.0959 INV)
36. Singapore. Curriculum Planning & Development Division. (1998). Traditional games. Singapore: Curriculum Planning & Development Division, Ministry of Education, pp. 28–29. (Call no.: RQUIK 796 SIN)
37. Rohana Mustaffa. (2009, March 25). Congkak, the heritage and contemporary game. Bernama. Retrieved 2016, October 27 from website: http://web10.bernama.com/finance/news.php?id=398869
38. Singapore. Curriculum Planning & Development Division. (1998). Traditional games. Singapore: Curriculum Planning & Development Division, Ministry of Education, pp. 28–29. (Call no.: RQUIK 796 SIN)
39. Inon Shaharuddin Abdul Rahman. (Ed.). (1998). Inventory of ASEAN traditional games and sports. Malaysia: ASEAN Committee on Culture and Information, p. 102. (Call no.: RSING 796.0959 INV)
40. Singapore. Curriculum Planning & Development Division. (1998). Traditional games. Singapore: Curriculum Planning & Development Division, Ministry of Education, pp. 28–29. (Call no.: RQUIK 796 SIN); Hellier, M. (1907, December). Note on the Malay Game 'Jongkak'. Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 49, 93. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
41. Singapore. Curriculum Planning & Development Division. (1998). Traditional games. Singapore: Curriculum Planning & Development Division, Ministry of Education, p. 30. (Call no.: RQUIK 796 SIN)
42. Have fun with traditional games. (1982). Singapore: The Association, (unpaginated). (Call no.: RCLOS 394.3095957 HAV-[CUS])
43. Barnes, R. (1975). Mancala in Kedang: A structural test. Bijdragen tot de Taal, Land en Volkenkunde, 131(1), 69–70. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
44. Have fun with traditional games. (1982). Singapore: The Association, (unpaginated). (Call no.: RCLOS 394.3095957 HAV-[CUS])
45. Singapore. Curriculum Planning & Development Division. (1998). Traditional games. Singapore: Curriculum Planning & Development Division, Ministry of Education, p. 30. (Call no.: RQUIK 796 SIN); Hellier, M. (1907, December). Note on the Malay Game 'Jongkak'. Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 49, 93. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg; Rohana Mustaffa. (2009, March 25). Congkak, the heritage and contemporary game. Bernama. Retrieved 2016, October 27 from website: http://web10.bernama.com/finance/news.php?id=398869
46. Expat Web Site Association Jakarta, Indonesia. (2016). Congklak instructions: How the game is played in Indonesia. Retrieved 2016, October 21 from Living in Indonesia website: http://www.expat.or.id/info/congklakinstructions.html; Barnes, R. H. (1975). Mancala in Kedang: A structural test. Bijdragen tot de Taal, Land-en Volkenkunde, 131(1), 67–85, pp. 69–70. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg



The
information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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