ISOLO, or Bao played by the Sukuma : LUSENET : Sukuma Culture : One Thread

Dear Mark, I am currently in my final year of a History of Art and Design degree at Camberwell College of Arts, in south east London. I found out about the game Mancala, or bao from an exhibition at the Museum of Mankind in London last Fall. My friend Rashdeep, lives in Mwanza and was in London, and mentioned that the locals played this game. I then set out to go and find out about bao, not aware of the Sukuma village in Bajora until I got out there. I was taken to Bajora to the Sukuma Museum, and found they had their own version of the game, it is played just like bao, apparently, but has a different name, and so to my question which is about this...

I interviewed the elders, Sululu Francisco, Gervas Kans'uning (I may have got the spelling of the last name wrong for Gervas) and Edward Maneno, with Jefta Kishusha as a translator for me. The interview took about three hours talking solely about the game! However the name of the game does not seem to be ISOLO, but BUSUMBI. I asked Jefta to write the name down in my note book to clarify that I had the corrext spelling, or at least the phonetically correct version. He checked with the elders and they all agreed when he repeated the word that what he was writing was indeed correct. The word BUSOLO refers to the counters used in the game, which is similar to ISOLO. I should point out at this stage, that I had not found your pages regarding the Sukuma Museum on the internet, until a week after my visit, though I was still in Tanzania at the time. I am not trying to prove any theory or tell you, that you got it wrong, but if you can clarify this matter I would be most grateful. Please do not take this as an insult, as you can imagine when writing a dissertation, and trying to back up any comments I make, I do not want to be proven by the examiners as being wrong when discussing factual information. If you would like any further information, regarding what I found out during my visit do not hesitate to contact me at this e-mail address.

Yours sincerely,

Clare Perkins.

P.S. Jefta wrote down a lot of the terms surrounding the game that the elders told him, if you would like this information, please contact me.

-- Clare Perkins (, March 19, 1998


Isolo or Isumbi is the name of the game. Also it refers to the actual item used in playing the game. In Kiswahili (Swahili) the word for this game is called "Bao" and what you heard in London probably was a Swahili word for the same "Isolo" word. Busumbi is the word for the beads used during the game which makes the scores and winning. So in Kiswahili we say, "Kucheza bao" meaning playing the game. In Kisukuma, "Kwesa Isolo" means playing the game called Isolo/Isumbi. I hope that contintribute to your search. Thank you for visiting my home city.

-- Bela B. Kalumbete (, April 01, 2001.

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