CONGKAK – FROM A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE, AND HOW TO PLAY IT
Congkak is one of the most popular traditional games in Malaysia. The word congkak is believed to be
originated from old Malay “congak” that means “mental calculation” which is mainly practised in this
game. The word congkak also means cowrie shells, which were originally used in the game.
The congkak game is believed to have originated from the Middle East, where it was known as mancala
(Arabic for “move”). It is first discovered in Jordan, dating between 7000 BC and 5000 BC. The game
spread throughout SouthEast Asia by the Arabian merchants via the trading post of Malacca, an
important trading post at the time. In the early days, the congkak was mostly played by the royal family
and the palace residents. Later, it spread to the general population of the kingdom. Now, it became a
common game in Malaysia and is enjoyed by all walks of life regardless of status and cultural
The congkak consists of a boat-shaped congkak board, usually with two rows of seven holes along the
board and 2 larger holes on the sides. The smaller holes are called the “houses” and the two larger holes are called the “storehouses”. Each of the smaller holes is filled with seven marbles (known as the “seeds”) at the beginning of the game.
The players take turns to transfer the seeds one by one into the houses in a clockwise direction, towards
their own storehouse. One takes all the seeds on his side and place each seed into the houses as he
passes, adding one seed to his own storehouse on the way. If the last seed lands on one’s own house
and there are seeds in the opposite house, the player can have all the seeds in the opposite house in his storehouse. The passing and placing of the seeds continue until the last seed lands on an empty hole, and the opponent shall start his turn. The game ends when all the seeds have been passed into the storehouses. The winner is determined by the number of the seeds in the storehouses where the player with more seeds in his storehouse wins. There is also another way of determining the winner where the winner of the game is the first to empty his row of houses.