The Legend of the Sapo

An ancient legend tells the tale of the magical powers of the Sapos in the sacred lake of the Incas, Lake Titicaca. The royal Inca King, son of the Sun God, would travel to Lake Titicaca and hope to catch the attention of a Sapo by throwing gold coins into the lake. If a Sapo caught a gold piece in its mouth, he immediately granted the lucky player's wish and then the Sapo turned into gold.

To honor all the wishes that had been granted by the Sapo, the Inca King built a golden statue of a great Sapo in the gardens of his palace in Cusco. The members of his royal court created a game of skill and quickness around the Sapo and planned festivals with dancing and music, where they played this game as they cried "Pukllay Sapo."

The Spanish Empire

During the years of the Spanish Empire, the idea of throwing coins to Sapos in lakes and rivers evolved into a board game. As the Empire expanded into Rio de la Plata (now Argentina) and created the viceroyalty there, some of the new criollos (the South American-born descendants of the ruling Spanish class) from Peru had a "Sapo Box" in their possession when they traveled to Argentina. The Argentineans eventually added a big, shiny, brass sun on the back wall of the Sapo box and this became the symbol of the new independence movement that started in Argentina. These more elaborate Sapo games became a symbol of pride for the owners, just as today's new owners are proud of their Sapo games.

When some of the Spanish families returned to Spain, they showed the Sapo game to the Spanish society. But since the game did not contain any value in gold or silver, it did not catch the attention of the Spanish royalty. However merchants traveling through France and England took this game with them.


Examples of the Sapo game have been traced to the coasts of Normandy in France, and to the Basque regions of northern Spain where the parts were made of cast iron. But the boards were not uniform: some contained three holes, and some were built with ten, twelve or even sixteen holes. The Sapo and the coins were made of different materials like iron, wood or brass.

One form of the game was a hole on a board with a painted toad, used to catch coins from drunken soldiers at bars and pubs. Pubs throughout the British Commonwealth played this game, eventually called "Toad in the Hole."

Another form of the game was a flat board with holes and a wooden Sapo figure standing in the middle. But these wooden figures did not last very long and eventually led to more ornamental figures made of brass and iron.


Today, the standard official Sapo board has twenty-five holes with a shiny brass Sapo and brass chips. The Sapo games built by local artisans in Lima, the capital of Peru, are the most common design in the world. They are becoming the new entertainment in pubs, clubs and picnic areas and there are even local clubs around Lima that have leagues for families as well as competitions for dedicated players. Playing the game creates a friendly atmosphere with beer and good food.


At present, this document does not intend to be the absolute truth about the history of the Sapo game, but Dream Crafts, MN is researching it. Any further information sent to Dream Crafts, MN not only will be examined, but also will be greatly appreciated.

All material submitted to this web site remains the property of Dream Crafts, MN for the sole purpose of promoting this very exciting, entertaining and old game.


Last update to the history: April 30, 2002

Copyright: 2002 DreamCrafts, MN
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