Fanorona Game Board set up for play

Early board games appear not to have been used for entertainment, or at least not solely for entertainment purposes. Very often, it was for divinatory purposes, to determine a winner and a loser. Who will win the conflict? Which is to be the winning side in the war? Who should get the position? Which of these two are The Gods angry with? Which of these two do The Gods favor? Who should be allowed first crack at it? On whom should the treasure be bestowed? More grimly, which of these two should be the sacrificial victim?  Fanorona is a game which represents the essential unity of the world and the never-ending struggle between polar opposites like good and evil, light and dark, conservative and progressive.

Fanorona is a game from the island nation of Madagascar, and is at least a couple centuries old. It’s believed to have descended from the earlier board game Alquerque, now known as Zamma, a game which had it’s origins in ancient Egypt, and frankly looks like a close cousin to Fanorona. It’s played on a game board featuring a nine-line by five-line grid, which is interconnected by diagonal lines. This gives the board 45 intersections or points upon which the game pieces are arranged. Designed for two players, each side plays with 22 pieces, 22 black, representing the negative, underworld, malevolent powers and 22 white, representing the positive, upper-world, beneficent powers.

It’s interesting to contemplate the numerological significance of these numbers, because 22 is the number of the Master Builder, 44 is the number of the workaholic, the one on whom everything and everyone seems to depend, and 45 is the number of vacillation between structure and malleability. Even the numerology of the game reflects the stakes involved.