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For our Christmas 2010 trip to Manila, I made a list of things to do and buy.   Included in the short list of things to buy was sungka.   I have always been curious about the game and I thought it would be a wonderful addition to our board games of Monopoly, Tip-Top Tally Card, Battleship, and Uno.

After a late lunch with some of my college friends, I decided to brave the packed Greenhills tiangge with my good friend, Chelle to look for my very own sungka set.  We found a lizard design wooden acacia board for P450 (around US$12) that came with a pack of sigay (cowry shells).  For someone who has never played it, I was really determined to purchase one. I paid for it after making sure that the board would fit in my luggage.

As soon as we unpacked from our Manila trip, my daughter and I checked online how to play sungka.  My daughter was very curious why I had to check the computer for instructions when it was a “Filipino game”.   The only explanation I could offer was that no one taught me how to play it.  My eldest sister who claims to be good at sungka says she learned it from an aunt who lived in Lipa.  I grew up in Manila and only went to Lipa on weekends and summer breaks.  Unfortunately, learning how to play sungka never came up on any of my sorties.

I am glad that the novelty of playing with our sungka in our home has not yet worn off.  I have seen how the game has helped develop my daughter’s  fine motor skills, not to mention her mathematical skills.  When she was still learning to play it at 3, she would hold a handful of cowry shells and would very carefully drop one shell at a time in the holes.  With the other three fingers clenched to stop the other shells from falling, her thumb and pointer finger would pinch and then drop each shell.  This allowed her to develop the required skill to hold a pencil well for writing.

Now that she is a bit older, she is now developing her own strategy of putting away as many shells as she possibly can, for as long as she can, in her bahay and ulo. Who knew that sungka could reinforce math skills just as effectively as the math apps for tablet computers?

Next up, luksong tinik, luksong baka, and jackstone.  Now these games, I am good at!

About Teacher Tina

I have been a teacher for more than 15 years in the Philippines and the United States. Teaching is a vocation that I am grateful to have embraced. It certainly prepared me for motherhood.

11 responses »

  1. I love this game too… even if I have yet to learn how to play.

  2. As a kid I was taught how to play sungka, I think it was at my grandparent’s home in Bulacan, when we cousins would get together there in the summer (but i have very vague memories of the game itself, what remains vivid is the smooth feel of the dark kamagong wood and how i loved the sound of the delicate sigay falling into each hole). And also this – we were always losing pieces of shells, so we gathered smooth stones in sigay sizes to replace the missing number required for the game (how many, actually? 9 each for hole and for the bahay?)

    Great first topic, on appreciating this almost forgotten game. Again congratulations on this blog! Its a brave and noble thing to pursue.

    • Thanks for scouring the tiange with me to get my sungka. Indeed, it was a good buy!

      There are different versions of playing the game when you check online, but the version we are using is 7 tokens per hole (bahay).

      • I can’t believe we’ve known each other most of our lives and you didn’t know your good friend here is a sungka expert! I can EASILY wipe anyone out of their shells. No need to go online. I will show you the tricks of the trade 🙂

  3. I do need to learn the tricks, I am easily beaten by a 5-year old.

  4. When my daughter was in grade school (she’s now in college), she pestered me about having her own sungka. Good thing a friend who lives in Baguio, was making a trip to Manila, so she was able to get one for us. My daughter did play with it, until she lost interest. So now the sungka makes one great wall decor in our humble abode. … I do remember playing sungka as a kid and I vaguely remember some superstitions that was attached to it. Are you familiar with those? I ask only in the context of your goal of imparting Filipino culture to your kids, you might want to branch out into that too. … Oh and btw, thanks for liking my blog. God bless!

    • When our sungka is not being used, it also doubles as a decor. I don’t know anything about superstitious beliefs attached to sungka though. I may have to hold sharing that piece of information with my kids if it is true.

      I bought a collection of Palanca short stories without reading the stories first. When I brought it home to read to my kids, I found out that most of the stories are about anitos. I stopped reading it. When they are a bit older and understand more about Philippine prose, maybe I’ll bring the book out.

      Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

  5. Sungka was a popular game when I was growing up in Iriga City (Camarines Sur). It seemed everybody played that game. Some used smooth river peebles instead of cowrie shells. I was amazed on a trip to Kenya (East Africa) some years ago that they too had sungka as a traditional game. I did note that theirs had 8 pairs of “nests” instead of 7 in our version.

  6. It seems that I was the only one who did not get a chance to play sungka when I was growing up. All my friends seem to know the game.

    I know that there a lot of versions of sungka games around the world. I am not familiar with the 8 pairs of nests though. I’ve seen the mancala set and it has 6 pairs, compared to our version of 7. Whatever the version is, teachers swear by how effective it is with the teaching of math.

    Thanks for sharing your experience with sungka. Keep on reading.

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