Lemaplan International

Prof Jean Retschitziki and the Awélé board game.

1. Tell us about yourself

My name is Jean Retschitziki, and I was a Professor of Psychology at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland until my retirement in 2010. I was interested in Cognitive and developmental psychology. My primary area of study was an African strategy game known as “Oware/Warri” in English and “Awale or Awélé” in my mother tongue of French. Furthermore, i am the author of the book Stratégie des joueurs d’awélé (Espaces interculturels) (French edition ).

2. The Oware board game could have been better liked in the past, particularly in Western nations. What then motivated you to learn more about the Oware board game’s strategies?

In light of the Russian heritage of my father’s family, the uncle who took him in always kept a chessboard and a game of chess going on in his living room. This kind of game held great importance for me. We were going to be spending at least a year in a nation where this game was played, so I wanted to take advantage of the chance to learn more about the rules and strategy of the game.

3. When did you initially come across the board game Oware?
Oware/mancala Game / Play Game - Etsy

I first learned about the game of awélé in 1972 while getting ready to research the relationship between infant malnutrition and intellect development in Côte d’Ivoire. (Dasen, P., Inhelder, B., Lavallée, M., & Retschitzki, J. (1978). The birth of intelligence in the Baoulé child of Côte d’Ivoire. Huber, Bern).

4. While reading your work, I saw that you attended the Comegie Mellon de Pittsburg University in the United States for a post-doctoral internship. Was the Oware board game relevant to your internship?

I had the good fortune to work in Pittsburgh from September 1978 to July 1980 as a postdoctoral fellow. I gained a lot of knowledge about cognitive behavior simulation techniques, which I attempted to use in my gaming research. There was no direct connection.

Then, in the summer of 1980, we moved back to Switzerland, where I was able to secure employment at the University of Fribourg. The Director greeted me and advised me to apply for a research credit each year, if at all possible.

I decided to use Oware as the primary theme.

The same village where we had been a few years prior was the site of my search, and in 1981 I was granted another research credit by the FNRS, this time to focus on play and its development in children between the ages of 9 and 15. In 1983, I was able to go back and continue my research there thanks to a second credit.

 5. Did you travel in blind faith or did you have local individuals who helped you? How brave you must be!

With the excellent support from the Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique and the Fondation Nestlé, whose collaborators assisted us in resolving administrative issues and operating a research station in the capital, Abidjan. Everything was easier. 

 6. Did you visit Africa before starting your research? If so, wasn’t it frightening?

Although this was our first interaction with Africa, Pierre Dasen, our group leader, did visit the continent the year before establishing partnerships and laid the groundwork.

The first several days were impressive, but we quickly gained a bit of peace.

We traveled to the villages 150 kilometers from our family home once a month for almost a week to conduct the baby research, which required us to see each baby and its mother around every three months.

Three of the villages in our study lacked electricity at the time. However, we were still able to record the sessions with the babies on camera as well as the Awelé players.

We also traveled to several regions of the nation (the North, the beaches in the South, etc.) because of the flexibility of our time during the program.

7. What was your duration in Africa? 

For our first search, we stayed for eighteen months, from October 1973 to March 1975.

We then authored the book, which was released in 1978.

8. I saw that you established an association in Switzerland. How many members have joined so far? How often do you meet or play online with your members? Is it possible for anyone to join? What is the cost of membership? 

To put it in English, the International Association of Warri Players (IAWP) or International Association of Awélé Players (AIJA) has been established.

It started with big plans, but when members could not pay their subscriptions, it ultimately ceased activities.

The Swiss Gaming Museum allowed us to host international competitions from 2005 to 2015.

Africa (Ivory Coast, Cameroon), America (Antigua and Barbuda), Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan), and Europe (France, England, Spain, Italy) were among the players.

9. Do you still advertise and host workshops to encourage young people to learn about and play the board game Oware, in addition to the annual publicity and promotion efforts made by the Swiss Museum of Games?

I am always willing to lead introductions to the game, for example for children’s sessions at the Swiss Gaming Museum.

However, I ceased hosting workshops after I left the university in 2010.

10. Would you say that your research was successful and how did it benefit the Swiss community?

Our study has been very helpful in improving our comprehension of how players of various ages play.

However, the most instructive things I learned were from the tournament meetings.

11. Not many people have had the chance and privilege to read your book ‘‘Strategies des joueurs d’awele’’, so what would you say to the public, I mean what are the benefits of playing the board game?

Do you think the Awélé board game can be used as a means of bringing people together in the Swiss Community?

The question of why playing is beneficial is a complicated one. The player’s queries during the game determine the move they make next. Studies on failure also reveal no appreciable advantages. The enjoyment a player derives from playing is, in my opinion, the primary advantage. Because the Awélé game involves a lot of maths, it can assist younger players in strengthening their counting abilities while teaching older players how to properly analyze situations in order to predict actions and identify threats.

How this game may promote social cohesion in Switzerland cannot be overemphasized.

Written by Irene Lema

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