Asiko Isere: Life Lessons From the Game of Ayo

Asiko Isere: Life Lessons From the Game of Ayo

By Temitope Babaoye

Asiko Isere: Life Lessons From the Game of Ayo

Growing up in Ibadan, one of my fondest childhood memories was playing the game of Ayo with my Grandfather.

It was one of his favorite games and over time, it gradually became mine and a chance to hear him speak about his childhood and general nostalgic stories from the past. 

He was a great story teller and Ayo was the perfect game to bring out the stories while eating the tastiest Ikpekere (plantain chips) from Ijebu. 

I was told that back in the day, it was believed that it is very unlucky to play the Ayo game at night as the spirits may want to join in nd carry off the living at the end of the game. 

That didn't stop us as we played Ayo at all times of the day with a little cheeky look over our shoulders at night. 

Ayo, also known as the game of the intellectuals is a traditional game played by the Yoruba people in Nigeria. Ayo is played with a carved wooden box containing twelve holes with six holes containing on each side and 48 Ayo seeds in total.

This game runs counter clockwise with players picking up seeds from their die in an attempt to capture all your opponent’s seeds. When one of the players cannot move anymore, the game is over. The opponent captures all the seeds that are left on the board and the winner is the player who captured most seeds.

By playing Ayo continuously with him, I learnt many of life’s valuable lessons that I’d be sharing with you.

So here goes,

  1. Have a plan: To succeed in life, it is important to go through it with a plan and the game of Ayo teaches you this from the onset. The aim of the game is to capture more seeds than the opponent & to do this, it is important to think strategically, preparing your attacks by setting the number of seeds in your opponent’s holes to values that reach the opposite territory and allow you a capture. By having a proper plan, you’re more likely to win both at the game and in life.
  1. Pace Yourself: As it is in life, patience is also a virtue in a game of Ayo. You must effectively bid your time by calculating the moves that will guarantee you outsmart your opponent. Winning the game is a marathon so you must not lose sight of the big picture for a few small wins. Apply this in life and you’re on your way to the top.

  1. You will sow before you reap- ‘’He who enjoys a harvest plants a seed they say.’’ To enjoy the benefits of a good life, you must put in the work. In the game of Ayo, a player sows before he reaps. By placing seeds in a range of the opponent’s empty holes, you are set for a bountiful multiple capture. In life, the reward is in direct proportion to the effort.
  1. Protect what matters- Life’s hurdles will continually come at you but it’s important to guard what’s truly important; your mind, body, soul & family. In the game of Ayo, there are defensive strategies called blocking that help each player thwart the attack of the other. It includes adding at least two seeds in the threatened hole or adding seeds to the opponent’s holes to overload it thus missing the target.

Either way, the holes are protected and the odds are even again. Life may knock you down but your desire to protect your dreams and goals must be paramount.

  1. It doesn’t matter when you start as long as you do: It is often believed that starting the game of Ayo is more at risk of losing as the second player has a higher chance of capturing all the seeds. However, with a little strategy & planning that involve choosing the right holes, any player can win.

Similarly in life, it doesn’t matter when you kick start that dream or business idea, as long as there is a practical plan & consistency, you will win!

Ayo game is not just about moving seeds. It requires deep thought, and good strategy to move seeds with the ultimate aim to win.

Till this day, it remains one of my favorite games and I hope to someday teach my children.

Until next time,


Words by Moyo Ogunseinde & written by Mercy Emmanuel.

Images by Temitope Babaoye. 



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