Arts and Culture

NIGERIAN LOCAL GAME: AYO OLOPON

Ayo Olopon is a traditional game played by the Yoruba people of Nigeria. The game is similar to the Oware game that is known across the Americas which was originally introduced by slaves from Africa. It also has a lot of similarity to mancalas, which is native to the Warri people of Nigeria. Ayo Olopon is also referred to as Ayo-ayo or Kalah. The game also has identical rules with Endodoi, played by the Maasai people of Kenya and Tanzania.

This game is usually played in the evenings under trees. To the Yorubas, only a lazy man would play the game in the morning. The art of playing this game is called ‘’Ayo Tita’’ and it involves two players and spectators which usually make the game lively and interesting. A good player of the game is called ‘’Ota,’’ meaning champion while the other player or loser is called ‘’ope,’’ which means a novice.

HOW TO PLAY THE GAME

Ayo Olopon is a game played in a carved wooden box, containing twelve holes (six holes on each side) and forty-eight Ayo seeds (four seeds in each hole). Two individuals take from the seeds to play this game, which runs anti-clockwise.

The first player begins by running seeds from his right-hand side to the opponent’s side. If the seed movement terminates in a hole with three or less Ayo seeds, this player picks up the seeds, and seeds from preceding holes, if any. Players take turns until the seeds are exhausted.

When one of the players cannot move anymore, the game is over. The opponent captures all the seeds that are left on the board and the winner is the player who captured the most seeds. If a player ends his/her row, the opponent must (if it is possible) choose his move in such a way to bring one or more seeds into the other’s row. This scheme of play is referred to as ‘’feeding’’ the opponent i.e. saving the opponent from starving.

If a player records three straight wins, he becomes a champion (ota), the loser (ope) quits; a new player then takes over. Ayo game requires deep thought and good strategy to move seeds with the ultimate aim to win.

WHO PLAYS THE GAME?

The game can be played by everyone i.e. men, women and children. It was originally played only by men. Nowadays, the game has been introduced in Secondary schools for young school children to learn and thereby preserve and promote the Yoruba culture.

HOW TO GREET PLAYERS

As Yoruba people are known to have a way of greeting several categories of people, there is also a special way of greeting the players of Ayo Olopon. A spectator would say ‘’mo k’ota, mo k’ope’’ meaning ‘’I greet the champion and loser’’. The reply is ‘’Ota n’je, ope o le f’ohun’’ meaning ‘’the champion responds, the loser can’t talk’’. Just like chess and Scrabble, Ayo Olopon will sharpen your decision making as you catch fun playing it.

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