Tag Archives: cowry shells


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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!

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