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Chess Originated In Africa
A painting of Queen Nefertari playing Senet in the Tomb of Nefertari. In Ancient Egypt, games were part of religious life. Their most popular game was Senat in which counters, or markers, were moved around a game board. Winning the game came by one player removing all of his/her pieces before the opponent did (Hawass,Tutankhamun, p235). A wall painting on the tomb of the Egyptian queen Nefretari, wife of Ramses II (1304-1237 BC), shows her playing Senat. It symbolizes the struggle between good and evil as well as stands magically for rebirth and resurrection. The African games known as Mancala or Wari are among the oldest games, dating back at least to 5000 BC. In these games, beans, seeds, and other small objects were moved around a playing board with hollowed out cups. A player tried to capture as many objects as possible. Both Senat and Mancala games and four other types were discovered when the tomb of Tutankhamen -- an Egyptian king who reigned from 1348-1339 BC -- was discovered. An Egyptian board game of primitive "checkers" from 1000 BC is in the British Museum. Another type -- called Nine Men's Morris, Mill, Morelles, or Morels -- has been found carved in the roofing slabs of an Egyptian temple and dating between 1400 and 1300 BC. The object of the game, of which there are many versions, is for each player to try to capture an opponent's piece and to prevent the opponent from moving any pieces. Note how closely this resembles Chess as we know it today. But Western literature admits that the origin of Chess is uncertain. Whenever such a statement is made, experience has taught me that the uncertainty most likely indicates it originated in Africa. Many Western scholars believe chess started in Pakistan as an offspring of a Hindu game under the Sanskrit name "Chaturanga" about 500 AD. Others say it is from India or China. Then the game spread to Persia where it was given the name "Shah" (which means "king") and "Shah mat" ('the king is dead'). The Arabs learned the game when they conquered Persia in the 600's and they introduced it into Europe by way of Spain, Sicily, and Constantinople. The pieces were named for roles in the courts of kings during the Middle Ages-king, queen, knight, and bishop. Chess' strategy
each conducted with the definite objective of protecting ones king from being trapped or "checkmated" (i. Joseph A. You have only to get used to a different colour scheme: instead of "White" versus "Black". with regard to the "horse" (in Ethiopian: "ferese"). Moreover the board is not checkered. on the Tezeta web site. It is thanks to the British historian Professor Richard Pankhurst that the web community can now learn a little bit more about this thrilling game. and more or less with regard to the "king". Hamburg/Germany Historians and experts in cultural studies always look towards India. . More info: Senterej – Ethiopian chess with a flying start By Dr. The foregoing is valid with regard to the "castle" (in Ethiopian "der"). where the king is unable to escape capture). Professor Pankhurst today lives and works in Ethiopia where he has founded the Institute of Ethiopian Studies at the University of Addis Ababa. more recently – when they search for the origins of chess. decisions and solutions. i. the majority of pieces move the same way their counterparts do in Chess. that rumbles along like the modern rook. "Afterstudy" is fundamental to any thinking process that calls for choices. except for one difference: there is no privilege of castling in Senterej. or the "negus". Persia and Arabia – and some even turn to China.and play are modeled on how wars were fought in the Middle Ages. One of the endearing aspects of Senterej is the fact that beginners do not have to face any major problem to find their way in the scenario of African chess. By the 16th century chess moves had assumed their modern form. René Gralla. and which has the same power as his European colleague. But with regard to Africa it is a sobering fact that up to now the science of chess has stubbornly ignored that continent which is the cradle of mankind. Every new game is a different battle and the players are the generals who plan the battle. Chess is a board game consisting of a miniature battlefield whereby the opponents engage in organized attacks and defense. Bailey. which is the equivalent of our knight. Chess is one of the oldest of all games of pure mental skill as well as one of the most interesting and mind focusing and challenging of all board games. Africa remains a white spot in the relevant publications so far. It is the familiar battleground of 64 squares where the two armies clash. Every game of chess can be recorded in the form of a code so that after the game is over it can be studied to learn what was done properly and improperly. The following survey on history and rules of Senterej is mainly based on the findings of this expert from the UK.e. M.D. Apart from the somewhat different visual impression in Senterej. it is the "Green" King who wants to defeat the "Golden" Monarch. they actually conform to the rules of FIDE. Born in London in 1927.e. That is deplorable since Africa has contributed its own creative and very entertaining version to the universe of chess: the Ethiopian variant "Senterej" that has emerged parallel to the hitherto well-known lines of development. but uniformly red with fine blue lines marking the squares. as the Ethiopians call him. II.
There is no advantage to be gained from that in Senterej. so good. Thus both players may operate simultaneously. therefore the "Fers" is the same as the "Vizier" in the Arabic game of Shatranj. Whereas the Western Ruler can count on a powerful Amazon standing by his side. This counsellor moves diagonally. the "Fers". provided the piece has already been captured by the enemy. as a result the "Fil" of Senterej corresponds to the Elephant of Arabic Shatranj. After that the players move alternately as in the modern game. which corresponds to the white king. The "Fil" or "Saba" corresponds to the bishop in western chess. p. a Horse or an Elephant. 163). the "mobilization phase". in a brief study: Werera simulates "the marshalling of troops and advance. namely the queen. or by a Castle. the Ethiopian king must get along with a weak "Fers" or "Minister". unlike western chess. But there is one unique feature of Senterej that contrasts strongly with all known variants of our eternal game: a match of Ethiopian Chess starts with the “Werera" (pronounced "way-ray-ruh"). The Ethiopian "Medeq" is modelled on the pawn of Shatranj and marches forward one square per move. but with three modifications: Elephants replace the Bishops. Though at this stage a stranger might suppose that there is great confusion on the board. An Ethiopian "Medeq" that reaches the base line of the opposing force can be replaced either by a Minister. Senterej gives ample scope for creativity at the beginning of the game. which is why it makes no sense to memorize long sequences of openings. So far. the green Negus. 2. As Richard Pankhurst points out. there is no initial two-step pawn move.The student of Senterej has to make himself familiar with two special pieces.. 149 pp. or. p. . The heritage from the Golden Age of Arab Chess at the Court of the Caliphs at Baghdad finds expression in the pawn of Senterej as well. where a deep study of openings theory is a prerequisite to tournament success. Pankhurst reports that the duellists in fact keenly watch the moves of their adversary and change their tactics accordingly. Both in the Arab Shatranj and in Ethiopian Seneterj. The starting-out position of Senterej is the same as in western chess. After Werera has started the opponents move as many pieces as they can lay their hands on. but only one square at a time. in: Journal of Ethiopian Studies. and the green Minister occupies d1. no. the deployment of forces for an attack in progress" on the chessboard (see: "History and Principles of Ethiopian Chess". The African Elephant moves diagonally by either trotting or jumping to the second square. while the golden Negus is placed on d8. whereas the golden Minister stands on e8. The mobilization phase ends when the first capture occurs. 1971. The Arab connection becomes manifest if we analyse the move of the Ethiopian "Elephant". consequently there is no “en passant” capture option. stands on e1. no matter if it is the starting position or not. XI. as one might put it. frequently withdrawing the moves they have already made and substituting others so as to be in the most favourable position at the moment of the first capture. though. This is a clear indication of the fact that the Ethiopians adopted Shatranj and transformed it into the African brand of chess they call Senterej. The big advantage of Werera is that it creates randomized initial positions. during which the players move as fast as they wish without waiting for their opponent to move.
Etiquette and protocol in Senterej also differs from other kinds of chess. Pankhurst explains that all form of checkmates are not considered equally honourable (see: "History and Principles of Ethiopian Chess". Checkmate with a single Elephant "is tolerably good". the chess traveller on Her Majesty's Service state. as under FIDE rules. 168 p). 149 pp. as the game is considered drawn as soon as one side has lost all its capital pieces without having been checkmated. being commanded by the Elephants. three or four pawns. no. two. the two-step rule is irrelevant. Plowden adds: "Mating with one. the twosquare first move for pawns . because. p. cannot be taken. an Elephant or a Horse. The pieces move in the regular fashion. We learn from Pankhurst that the Negus Negest is . Since a player can move the pawn an unlimited number of times during mobilization.. "you check with one. "though assisting in throwing the net round the enemy. that is to say. In a nutshell In Senterej both sides start playing at the same time without waiting for turns. if you reduce him to one. Pankhurst underlines that there is one more way out for the adversary in a desperate situation: the lonely Elephant or Horse. must not deal the fatal stroke". [Source: Wikipedia] Emperor Dawit II. but checkmating with two Elephants is "applauded – that is. 2. He cites Walter Plowden. which. and may move their pieces as many times as they like without concern for the number of moves the opponent makes.Traditionally Senterej has been the favourite pastime of the Ethiopian nobility. these pieces. has gone down in history as one of the early stars of Senterej. XI. The foregoing is a matter of etiquette. There is a special trap the unsuspecting beginner can stumble into: it is almost necessary to leave the enemy King two of his "capital pieces". They only start to take turns after the First Capture. The two-square first move by a pawn is prohibited. who has observed that "for instance. the latter two particularly.would become relevant once the mobilization phase ends after first capture. British envoy to Ethiopia. except in Senterej: 1. the opponent commences counting his moves. and mate with the other". a checkmate with the rooks or the knights is considered of the merest tyro". in: Journal of Ethiopian Studies. p. so entangling the king that he has but two squares free". Pawn cannot capture en passant. 1971. otherwise the match will be drawn. in the middle of the 19th century and author of the book "Travels in Abyssinia and the Galla Country"." Once more Professor Pankhurst refers to Plowden who unveiled one more "peculiarity" in Senterej: Checkmate is considered "more meritorious" if the adversary had not been denuded of all his major pieces. However. Hence it is not surprising that there is a relentless code of honour with regard to checkmate. It is considered better to defeat one's opponent while they still have strong pieces on the board. is considered the non plus ultra of the game. better known by his birth name Lebna Dengel (1501-1540). and you must checkmate him before he has made seven moves with that given piece. The phase before first capture is called the Mobilization Phase or werera. 2.. Both opposing sides start at the same time. say.if it were legal . but that is not all. which all apply. The use of the Horse "is just endurable".
I would rather die than accepting your deal. The decendent of the Queen of Sheba has lived up to her name by answering the Italian envoy. and there are plans to organize it on the occasion of Ethiopias National Holiday. commanding 3000 cannoneers at the Battle of Adowa. During the second half of the 20th century. Senterej has increasingly been superseded by modern chess.said to have played chess with the Venetian artist Gregorio Bicini who worked at the Ethiopian court back then. Richard Pankhurst has proposed staging a tournament of Senterej. On the contrary: provided that is not an official tournament every onlooker can participate and has a voice in the game. Other big names in the history of Ethiopian Chess are Ras Michael Sehul of Tigre (ca. 1851-1918). I do not like war. Senterej was still being played at the Imperial Palace in Addis Ababa at the time of the second Italian invasion 1935-1936. That is the cheerful African spirit in chess – just the way Empress Taytu Betul loved it. claiming descent from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. However. It could be a festive affair: the audience at a Senterej game is not compelled to be silent. 1745-1816) and Sahle Sellassie. however. the Day of Adowa on March 2nd. But more recently there have been plans to start a revival of Senterej. sadly passed away in 2008. later Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia. 1795-1847). 1691-1779). . his grandson Ras Wolde Sellassie (ca. 2010. the third of four children in an aristocratic Ethiopian family that was related to the Solomonic Dynasty – the traditional Imperial House of Ethiopia. One of the last old masters of Senterej. Count Antonelli. We have our dignity to preserve. who tried to bully the hesitant Menelik II into accepting the establishment of a protectorate over Ethiopia: "I am a woman. And there was even a strong female player who taught her male challengers many bitter lessons at the board of Senterej: Taytu Betul (ca. Taytu Betul married King Menelik of Shewa. which resulted in a humiliating defeat for Italy on March 1st. Miikael Imru. The spectators are even allowed to touch the pieces in order to suggest advisable moves. 1896. King of Shewa (ca." The outspoken and courageous Empress took part in the campaign of 1895-96 against the Italian expeditionary corps that invaded Ethiopia after the breakdown of the negotiations with Rome. She joined forces with Emperor Menelik II and the Imperial Army.
but with three modifications: Elephants replace the Bishops. the green Negus. Ethiopian Chess: The starting-out position of Senterej is the same as in western chess.A painting of Queen Nefertari playing Senet in the Tomb of Nefertari. which corresponds to the .S. Exhibit at U. Senet. Chess Hall of Fame on the ancient Egyptian game.
whereas the golden Minister stands on e8. stands on e1. Egyptian Senet Game board Ruins of the Castle of Fasilidas. Ethiopia .white king. and the green Minister occupies d1. while the golden Negus is placed on d8. Gonder.
.Taytu Betul. Empress of Ethiopia and avid Senterej player Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia and also an Avid Senterej player and brilliant military strategist.
1283AD.” Moors playing Shatranj in Castile.Senterej pieces This photo was from an 19th century postcard with a French caption reading “Algers–Negres jouant aux Echecs” meaning “Algiers–Moors playing Chess. .
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