Capture Your Inner Child With These Traditional Games from Zambia

Nsolo or Mancala is a popular game played in Zambia
Nsolo or Mancala is a popular game played in Zambia | © Pixeljoy / Shutterstock

On any given afternoon in any country, one is bound to find children playing games to amuse themselves. Zambia is no different, with some games having been influenced by Britain or America, such as hopscotch and dodgeball. These are seven traditional games you should join in on while on a trip to Zambia. Traditionally, some games were taught to boys and girls as preparation for future roles such as child rearing—games like ‘vibana’ is an example of where a child goes about playing house, while ‘Nsolo’ is a mathematical game played by boys who traditionally were breadwinners and needed to know how to balance a budget.

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Game is inspired by dodgeball. Two players who act as shooters and are on the same team stand opposite each other and form a boundary. A player from the opposing team stands within the boundary and must run from one end of the boundary to another while a ball, which is usually made from plastic and newspapers, is thrown at them. Each successful lap in the boundary gives a player 10 points. If they catch the ball, they are awarded 50 points. If the ball passes between their legs, they earn 30 points. When they are hit with the ball on any part of their body, they are out. In another variation of the game called ‘Washomba wa Loba’ or ‘Walasa Waingena’, the shooter responsible for hitting the player gets the next turn as the player. Game is usually played in teams. All shooters must get a turn as players and vice versa.


Sojo is game usually played by boys. It is similar to marbles, except bottle caps are used. The objective is to flick the bottle caps into a hole. Once a player’s bottle cap is in a hole, they can start attacking the other player’ bottle caps in an effort to deter them from getting their caps in the hole. The winner is called ‘the King.’


Ciato, or ichienga, is a game traditionally played by girls and is similar to jacks played in Britain and North America. In the Zambian version, an agreed number of small rocks are collected. Around them, a circle is drawn. Level one begins, in which a player throws a larger rock in the air, then at the same time remove some of the smaller rocks from the circle using a sweeping motion with their hands, then throw the large rock again and sweep all but one of the rocks are returned to the circle. This is repeated until all the stones have been removed from the circle. If a player fails to do this by dropping the large rock, the other player must have a go. Once all the stones are outside of the circle, level two begins which restarts the process of moving the rocks from the circle, this time leaving two rocks at each attempt. This goes on until all levels based on the initial amount of rocks collected is reached.


Waida, a variation of the word ‘wide,’ is a game played in teams and an alternative form of jump rope, which is typically played by girls. Two members of the same team stand across from each other with a taut rope usually made from old car wheels around the width of their legs. A member of the opposing team jumps in and out of the rope in a series of choreographed challenges, making sure not to let their body brush against the rope or else they will be out. Once the jumps are achieved without touching the rope, it is raised higher to the knees, then hips, shoulder and neck. The winning team is the one that is able to reach the highest level without touching the rope.


Eagle, or Kapendo, is the Zambian version of hopscotch. Instead of chalk, children use a stick to draw squares in the dust. A rock or another object is tossed into the first square, and a child then hops on one leg to retrieve it. The child cannot alternate legs and must not step on the lines denoting the squares. Once the rock has been retrieved and the player has stepped out of the box, they must throw it into a second box, hop into the other squares then repeat the cycle. Eagle can be played alone or in a group and is usually played by girls.


Nsolo or Mancala is a popular game played in Zambia

Nsolo is the Zambian version of the game ‘mancala.’ It is a mathematical game sometimes likened to chess. It is usually played by boys or men. Carved wooden nsolo sets are sold in markets such as the Pakati Market and the Kabwata Cultural Village, but in most cases, holes are dug in the ground or created on a concrete slab. Small rocks, nuts or seeds are used as play pieces. There are four rows, with opposing teams sitting opposite each other manning two rows each.

According to Mtembo, a traditional games writer, nsolo is played as follows: “Two stones are placed in each of the outside rows at the beginning of the game. The two sides flip a coin to determine who starts. The player can then pick up any two stones from any of his holes and drop one in each hole. Wherever the player lands with the last stone, they will then pick up all the stones in that hole and continue to distribute them again, starting from the next hole. They only stop when they land with one stone in an empty hole. The player then says aloud, ‘Chenti!’ This signifies that the player has finished their play and [then] prompts the opposing player(s) to take their turn. The stones are always and without exception moved from left to right. Normally, after five or six initial, relatively routine, harmless plays, they can now begin to score on each other. This is when serious mathematical strategy comes to play. Players have to count stones and holes and try to anticipate two to three or more moves ahead while the opposing player(s) try to thwart, pre-empt or evade their opponents’ next possible moves.”


Icidunu is a version of hide and seek using a ball made from paper and plastic. According to Ella Kasonde, a University of Zambia graduate who wrote her thesis on the type of skills that can be found in traditional Zambian games: “It is played by both girls and boys with a minimum of three players. It is played in a large area with enough space to run and hide. A ball is balanced a the center the open space and kicked or thrown away by any of the players. All the participants then ran to go and hide. The first player then ran after the ball, picked it up and took it to the center. At the center a player counted from one to 10 and it was announced that the search for the hiding participants had started. The player thus embarked on a search for the other players.

“Upon locating any one of the hiding players, the first player shouted to alert the others. The searcher and the one found then compete in running to try and pick the ball first. If the searcher picks up the ball first, the player that was located was stopped from participating as the game continued until all the hiding participants were found. While searching for the hiding players the searcher would sometimes be out of sight and away from the ball. In this case any of the hiding participants left their hiding places, picked up the ball and kicked it very far away. This was referred to as ukucidununu (to kick it), hence the name icidunu. If this happened, then all those that had been found would go back into hiding and the game started again with the same searcher. A hiding participant was declared a winner when the searcher gave up the search before locating him or her.”

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