BAU (Swaheli)

Meredith G. Sanderson, Medical Officer, Nyasaland

Journal of the Royal Anthropological Insitute
London, 43, 1913, pages 726-736


This game is played in Nyasaland almost exclusively by the Yaos, and even among them it is of recent importation. The game is played by two persons, a special board and 64 marbles or seeds being required.

Bau Board

The Board consists of a flat piece of wood, about 2 feet 3 inches long by 1 foot 3 inches broad and 2 inches to 2 inches thick; on one surface are four rows of shallow round holes (nyumba), eight in each row or 32 in all. The "nyumba" are regularly placed so that from side to side there are four holes in line (see figures).

The fourth hole from the right in the front row of each player is in most boards is made larger than the rest, often square instead of round, and is called the "village" (mji or musi). The traveling Yao makes his board after the fashion of the other games, i.e. by scooping the requisite number of holes in any flat piece of ground, pebbles taking the place of the more correct seeds (nam or makomo).

For the proper understanding of the play it is necessary to plan out the two opposing front rows into two squares of four holes, one at each end, and a rectangle of eight holes in the centre. [Page 727] The two holes at each end of each front line may for convenience be termed "reverse" and the four holes in each front line between them "optional". The object of the game is to take all the men from the opponent's front row.

Definitions

  • The back rows are those nearest the player.
  • The front rows are the two centre ones.
  • Reverse holes are the last two at each end of the front rows.
  • Optional holes are the remaining four of the first row, lying between the reverse holes and including the "village."
  • Addition - A player is said to "add" a man when, in commencing his turn, he puts one of the men in hand into a hole.
  • Spreading - A player is said to "spread" when he takes up all the men from a hole in one of his own rows and puts them seriatim in other holes as far as they will go, beginning with the hole next to that from which he is moving; the latter remains empty.
  • Placing - A player is said to "place" the men he takes from his opponent. One is put into each hole of his own front row, as in spreading, but, beginning at one end.
  • Arrival - A player is said to "arrive" at a hole when he adds to that hole the last man of those which he is either spreading or placing.
  • Opposition A player s said to be taken, or to exist, when a player puts, or has, respectively, a man or men in a hole of his front row opposite to one in which his opponent has a man or men.

Rules [Note: In this section the author used Roman numbers.]

  1. Each player plays in turn.
  2. Each player has, at the commencement of the game, ten men in his front row and twenty-two in hand.
  3. Of the ten men, six are in the village, and two in each of the two holes immediately to the (player's) right of the village. There is no opposition when the men are so placed.
  4. A man must be added at the commencement of each move, as long as any remain in hand, i.e., till all are on the board.
  5. A man can only be added to a hole already occupied by one or more.
  6. A man must be added to a hole in opposition if there be one.
  7. A move ends when, in spreading or placing, a player arrives at an empty hole. He is then said to "lie" (kugona).
  8. A man or men belonging to the opponent can only be taken (kulya) by adding a man to a hole already in opposition or by arriving at such a hole.
  9. In such circumstances the opponent's man or men must be taken and placed in accordance with Rules 12, 16, 18, and 19.
  10. If no holes be in opposition at the commencement of a move, a man must be added to any hole in the front row containing one or more, and the resulting contents spread in either direction. Only two men may be taken and spread from the "village" under this rule, and then only if all other holes in the front row be empty.
  11. None of the opponent's men can be taken during a move commenced by adding to a hole not in opposition. [Page 728]
  12. A man or men taken from an optional hole by adding may be placed from either end at the discretion of the player.
  13. When no men remain in hand, the game proceeds by spreading the contents of any hole containing more than one man; if, in so spreading, the player arrives at a hole in opposition, he takes and places the opponent's man or men as before, and continues spreading or taking till he arrives at an empty hole, when the move ends.
  14. No man can be taken during a move under the preceding rule unless the first spread arrives at a hole in opposition; otherwise the player continues spreading till stopped by arriving at an empty hole, but he must not take any of his opponent's men.
  15. A move must be continued till an empty hole is arrived at. Exception.- If in spreading or placing a player arrives at the village he has the option of discontinuing his move, provided that no men have been previously removed from the village and that it is not in opposition.
  16. Men taken from the opponent must be placed in the front row. If more than eight men are taken from any hole the placing is continued along the back row in the reverse direction.
  17. Similarly, spreading is continued from one row to another by proceeding along the next row in an opposite direction.
  18. A man or men taken from a reverse hole must be placed from the end hole of the same reverse.
  19. The direction of moves in the front row - from left to right or from right to left - can only be altered by the preceding rule. So that a man or men taken from an optional hole by spreading or placing from right to left and so arriving at a hole in opposition, must be placed from the right-hand end, and vice versa.
  20. A player loses if, there being no men in hand, he has only single men in the holes.

The first two moves constitute the gambit and are always the same. The first player "adds" one to the third hole from the right and spreads to the left, taking opposition in two holes. His opponent then adds one to the third hole from the right in his front line, takes the man in opposition, adds it to the other three and then spreads to the left. There is then opposition in three holes.

Figure 2

It will be seen that the second move is not according to rule, as the man taken should be placed at one end or the other, where it would "lie," the hole being empty. The position is then as drawn (see Fig. 3).

[Page 729] Counting from the right B's 4th, 5th, and 7th holes are "in opposition." This should always be the position at the third move. A, the first player, having ten men on the board, and B twelve. Both players having twenty-one men in hand.

Figure 3

Specimen Game

  1. A plays, adds Od, spreads 3, arriving Oa. B adds l Od, takes 1, places Od, spreads 4, arriving Rb = Gambit (see Fig. 3).
  2. A adds 1 to V, takes 1, and places it at Ra (Rule XII). B adds 1 to Rb, takes 2 and places them at Ra and Rb (XII), arriving at Rb, spreads 3, arriving at V, takes 1, places at Ra (Rule XIX), spreads 2, arriving at Oa, spreads 3, arriving at Od and "lies " (Rule VII).
  3. A adds 1 to V, takes 2 and places them Rd-Re (XII). B adds 1 Rb (VI), takes 1 and places Ra.
  4. A adds 1 Rd (VI), takes 1, places (and arrives) Rd (XVII), spreads 3, arriving V (Rule XV, exception). D adds 1 Rb (VI), takes 1 and places Ra (XVIII).
  5. A adds 1 Od (X) and spreads 2, arriving Ob (Rule XI). B adds 1 V (VI), takes 1 and places Rd (XII).
  6. A adds 1 Ra (VI), takes 1, places (and arrives) Ra, spreads 3, arriving Ob, B adds 1 V (VI), takes 1, and places Rd (XII).
  7. A adds 1 Rb, takes 2, places Ra and Rb (XVIII), arriving Rb; spreads 3 and arrives V, spreads 12, arriving Ra (XVI), takes 1, places Ra (XVIII), spreads 3, arriving [Page 730] Ob takes 11, places from Ra (XIX), arriving F (back row); spreads 2, arrives D; spreads 2, arrives B; spreads 2, arrives Ra; spreads 2, arrives Oa; takes 1 and places Ra (XIX). B adds 1 Ra, takes 2, places Ra and Rb (XVIII), arriving Rb; takes 2, places Ra and Rb (XVIII), arriving Rb; spreads 5, arriving Rc.
  8. A adds 1 Rb, takes 1, places Ra (XVIII), spreads 2, arriving Oa; takes 1, places Ra (XIX). B adds 1 V, takes 3, places Ra, Rb, and Oa, arriving Oa; takes 2, places Ra and Rb, arriving Rb; spreads 2, arriving Ob; takes 1, places Ra (XIX); spreads 7 arriving Rd.
  9. A adds 1 Oa, takes 1, places Ra, takes 1, places Ra (XVIII), spreads 3, arriving Ob, B adds 1 Rc, takes 6, places Rd to Oa, spreads 5, arriving C (back row).
  10. A adds l Oa, takes 1, places Ra. B adds 1 V, takes 1, places Rd, takes 1, places Rd, spreads 3, arrives V; spreads 6, arrives B (back row); spreads 2, arrives D.
  11. A adds 1 Oa, takes 1, places Ra. B adds 1 Rc (X), spreads to right, arriving E.
  12. A adds 1 Ra, takes 1 and spreads, arriving Ob. B adds 1 Ob, spreads right, arriving G; spreads 2, arriving E; spreads 2, arriving C; spreads 3, arriving Ra; spreads 3 and lies Ob.
  13. A adds 1 Oa, takes 1, places Rd. B adds 1 V, takes 1, places Rd, spreads 2 and arrives Od and lies.
  14. A adds 1 Oa, places Rd, spreads 2, arrives Od and lies. B adds 1 Rb, takes 1, places Ra and lies.
  15. A adds Od, takes 2, places Rd and Rc and lies. B adds 1 Rb, takes 1, places Ra, takes 1, spreads 3, arrives Ob; spreads 2, arrives Od and lies.
  16. A adds 1 Oa, takes 1, places Rd and lies. B adds 1 Oa, takes 2, places Ra and Rb, spreads 8, arrives G and lies (see Fig. 4).
  17. End of move 16 (five men in hand):

    Figure 4
  18. A adds 1 Rb takes 3, places Ra, Rb, Oa, takes 1, places Ra, takes 1, places Ra, spreads 3, arrive Ob. [Page 731] B adds 1 V, takes 1, places Ra, takes 1, places Ra, spreads 3, arrives Ob; spreads 2 and lies Od.
  19. A adds 1 Oa, takes 1, places Ra. B adds 1 V, spreads right, arrives E.
  20. A adds 1 Oa, places Ra, takes 1, spreads 3, arrives Ob. B adds 1 Rc, takes 5, places Rd-Ob.
  21. A adds l Oa, takes 1, places Ra. B adds 1 Rd, takes l, places Rd, takes 1, spreads 3, arrives V spreads 3, arrives Rb, spreads 2, arrives A; spreads 4, arrives E; spreads 2, arrives G; spreads 3, arrives Rc; spreads 5, arrives Rb and lies.
  22. A adds l Oa, takes 2, places Ra and Rb. B adds 1 Rd, takes1, places Ra, spreads 3, arrives V; spreads 2, arrives Oa; spreads 7, arrives E and lies.
  23. A adds l Oa, takes 1, places Ra. B adds 1 Rc, takes 1, places Rd.
  24. End of move 22 (none in hand):

    Figure 5
  25. A spreads Oa (22) left, arrives D; spreads 2, arrives F; spreads 2, arrives H; spreads 4, arrives V; spreads 2, arrives Oa,; spreads 2, arrives Ra; spreads 4, arrives D and lies. B spreads D left (4), arrives Ra; takes 2, places Ra, and Rb, takes 2, places Ra and Rb, spreads 4, arrives Od and lies.
  26. A spreads G right (4), arrives Od; takes l, places Rd, takes 5, places Rd to Ob, takes 1, places Rd, spreads 4, arrives Ob ; spreads 4, arrives A; spreads 6, arrives G and lies. B spreads H (right, 5), arrives Ob.; takes 2, places Rd-Rc,, takes 4, places Rd. to V, spreads 2, arrives Oa and lies.
  27. ) A spreads B 4 left, arrives Oa; takes 3, places Ra, to Ob, spreads 3, arrives Od; takes 1, places Ra, takes 4, places Ra to Ob, spreads 2, arrives Od; spreads 7, arrives D; spreads 3, arrives A; spreads 2, arrives Rb; takes 5, places Ra to V, takes 7 and wins ("amuna Bau").

Last update January 11, 2010