Tuesday, July 9, 2013


Traditional games are an integral part of Malay culture. Wau (kite flying), Batu Seremban/Batu Serembat and  Sepak Takraw, are some of the many traditional games which continue to be played and enjoyed in Malaysia until today. Congkak is one such traditional Malaysian game of logic which was believed to have been brought to the Malay Archipelago by traders from the Middle East in the 15th century.
The origins of Congkak
Congkak which requires two players to grapple over a wooden board is in fact played throughout Asia, Africa and even the Americas. Known as mancala, the game was believed to have originated in Jordan sometime between 7000 BC and 5000 BC. The game travelled to Malaysia with traders from the Middle East who stopped in Malacca en route to China. Congkak quickly became the chosen game of the royal court in Malacca though it’s appeal soon spread amongst the local populace as well.
A game by any name
Congkak is one traditional game which is believed to be played throughout the world and hence it is known by various different names like chongkak, jongkah, jongkak or chunca. In Southern India, Congkak is known as Pallan guli and is traditionally played by women. The etymology of the name congkak can be traced to the Indonesian word for cowrie shell as cowrie shells are commonly used as counters in a game of congkak.  In Malaysia, the term congkak was said to have originated from the Malay word for mental calculation, for it was believed that a good congkak player would collect points easily by calculating strategies in advance.
A game of congkak requires a wooden board (papan congkak) with 16 holes in two rows carved into it. Expensive boards were known to be made out of rich woods like mahogany or teak and elaborately carved with decorations or images. The 16 holes of the congkak board symbolize houses in a village (kampong) while the larger of the two holes stand for storehouses of the village known as rumah in Malay. Various nuts and seeds like buah gorek(a nut-like seed in Indonesia), cowrie shells, tamarind seeds and  seeds from the rubber tree were used as counters for a game of congkak. Nowadays it is quite common to use marbles and pebbles as counters in a game of congkak.
Rules of the game
1) A congkak board is made up of two rows of 7 holes called houses and two bigger holes called store houses.
2) Before the game begins each hole is filled with seven counters and store houses are empty.
3) The aim of the game is to collect the largest number of counters in the store houses.
Method of Play
1) The players start off by simultaneously scooping all the counters in any house on their side.
2) Each player then drops a counter in the next house and continues to move clockwise dropping a shell in every house.
3) A player drops a counter in his storehouse as he passes but does not drop any in his opponent’s storehouse.
4) How the game continues depends on when the last counter was deposited.-
If the counter drops into the players own storehouse- then the player will scoop up the counters from any of his houses and continue to drop them in holes around the board but not in his opponents store house.
If the counter drops into a house on either side of the board that contains counters, the player will scoop all the counters in that house and continue to distribute them as described.
If the counter drops into a player’s house which is without counters, the player is then entitled to collect all the counters in his opponent’s house which is located directly opposite his own. The shells collected from his opponent’s house together with his last shell are deposited in his storehouse. If the opponent’s house opposite his own is empty, he deposits only his last shell in his own ‘storehouse’ he then has to forfeit his turn and stop playing. His opponent now plays to distribute his counters.
If the counter falls into an empty house belonging to his opponent, the player stops play and forfeits his turn. He also forfeits his counter and has to  leave it in his opponent’s house.  His opponent now distributes his counters.
The first round ends when a player has no more counters on his side.

5) Play continues in the second round as players now redistribute counters from their storehouses into their houses. Beginning from left to right, seven counters are placed in each hole. If  a player doesn’t have sufficient counters to fill a hole,the hole is considered to be burnt and left empty. Leftover counters are deposited into his storehouse; his opponent in the meanwhile deposits the extra counters he has won into his own storehouse.
6) The loser of the first round gets to start the second round. Play continues as described but players bypass 'burnt houses’ and no counters are to be dropped into these houses. If a counter is accidentally dropped into a 'burnt house', it is confiscated and stored in the opponent's 'storehouse'.
7) Play continues until one player loses all his 'houses' or concedes defeat.

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