The State of Oware on the Global Stage
For the last two centuries at least Oware globally has been in a state of decline. With the ensuing global forces of colonialism and its repression pushing the playing of the games to a clandestine activity and on the periphery of traditional community consciousness. At the same time these forces have also had the effect of spreading this game especially to the American continent, through the Trans-Atlantic slave trade of Afrikans. So today it is still played in some of the Caribbean Countries, such as Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, St Lucia and countries such as Suriname on the South American continent. It was reported by Townsend that it used to be played especially in the southern states of the US, Georgia etc but it seems that has largely died out.
Today it is mainly played in West Afrika, in countries such as, Nigeria (Ayo, Nchokoloto, Dara etc), Niger (Dara), Benin (Adji, Ware, Songu etc), Togo (Awale), Ghana (Oware, Awele etc), Burkina Faso (Awale ), Ivory Coast (Awale), Sierra Leone (Warri), Gambia (Wouri), Senegal (Wouri) and Cabo Verde (Oril). In these countries you will still find groups of players organised on a local level, playing somewhere usually in the middle of the village or locality under the shade of tree or building. Apart from the traditional rulers’ court, it is probably one of the few vestiges of traditional leisure activities still practiced on a wide continental scale.
These groups operate divisions of players & leagues among themselves to determine the best players and give encouragement for aspiring ones. From time to time these groups organise more formal competitions among themselves. At times patrons sponsor competitions among them or between grandmaster players from different, villages, towns, regions or even countries.
It has been only through the continuous playing of harden players and fans, that the game has survived. Traditional rulers have also played their part in keeping this game popular by sponsoring competitions from time to time, usually to coincide with local festival activities, thus further ensuring the survival of these games.
These days you will find corporate sponsors, cultural groups & politicians sponsoring competitions from time to time. Some community activists & public personalities also help to galvanise support and sponsorship to put on events especially for the youth that has these games as part of their retinue of activities.
Some of the clubs in a local area, district or region have organised themselves into associations, in an attempt, to organise themselves in a contemporary official capacity, as witnessed in Benin and Togo, with the establishment of FETEWA and FEBEJA.
In Europe enthusiasts of the game have organised themselves into various groups who have been organising playing sessions, conducting workshops in schools, libraries, museums and various other institutions. They have also held annual competitions continuously for the last 25 years. These groups can be found in the United Kingdom, France, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Czech Republic, Poland etc.
A similar thing has happened in the US and Canada, with competitions held in the recent past in Toronto, Canada. At various festivals and events held by the diaspora Afrikan communities you will find at times Oware being played there.
In the Caribbean countries, especially in Antigua & Barbuda competitions are held annually among seasoned players. Practise sessions are now also held for the youth, workshops have been conducted in various schools and there is now a plan to introduce it to schools all over the country.
Further afield through these activities especially in Europe, Oware has been introduced to the Far East, especially to Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan. Through these countries seeking to promote their own version called Togyzkumalak / Toguz Korgool. It has resulted in international Oware Championships being held in Almaty and Nur Sultan in Kazakhstan, Cholpon-ATA, Kyrgyzstan and Dahna Desert in Saudi Arabia. These Championships resulted in for the first time in history pitting Grandmaster, Master and other players of varying abilities coming from different countries against each other.
These activities have had the effect of winning over new adherents to the game, the grandmasters of Togyzkumalak / Toguz Korgool player have quickly developed their level of playing to senior approaching master level players since first competing in Oware at the Mind Sports Olympiad Oware Championship held in London in 2006.
Computer programs and online platforms have also done their part to maintain interest in Oware. There are now several platforms from which one can play other players from across the planet. Ludoteka features a scheduled weekly competition, which players register for to be able to participate. Another platform playok allows players to schedule their own tournaments and weekly tournaments are now played on that platform.
Mobile phone apps of which there are a flotilla with varying names, have also contributed to keeping Oware popular and in the consciousness of people’s minds, especially those who come from countries & communities that have traditionally played it. Some of these apps have multiplayer functionality and are connected to the app games room.
With these development’s continuously being built upon, there is a rising tide of Oware renaissance. The vast diffusion of this pit and pebble family of strategic games has ensured their survival and adoption by varying communities via cross cultural exchanges. With these prospects Oware will continue its role in contributing to the enhancement of community life, which was interrupted, in a new harmonious paradigm yet to unfold.