Art and Life Among the Zaramo of Tanzania

by Diane Pelrine
Indiana University Art Museum

Two men playing mancala, Zaramo peoples, Tanzania. Photo by Diane Pelrine.


A woodcarver's skill is frequently seen when men gather to play bao, the East coast version of a board game played all over Africa and beyond.  The boards used in East Africa are not figural, as some West African ones are, but, skillful carvers create elegant, refined ones through the placement, shape, and proportion of the cups holding the markers that are moved up and down the rows as the game is played.  After much use, a board's appearance changes, as the cups become worn and its surface takes on a rich, glossy patina resulting from the oils in players' hands.  Here, two Zaramo men from a Dar es Salaam suburb are playing.  The one on the right wears the long white tunic-like garment, which is the traditional garb of Swahili men, and both have donned embroidered white caps, also originally worn by Swahili and associated with the Muslim religion, but now much more widely worn.