INDIAN GAMES





INTRODUCTION.--All the games here presented have been played in our land

for untold generations, while traces of the articles used for them have

been found in the oldest remains on this continent. According to Dr.

Stewart Culin, the well-known authority on Indian and other games, "There

is no evidence that these games were imported into America at any time

either before or after the conquest. On the other hand they appear to be

the direct and natural outgrowth of aboriginal institutions in America."

Dr. Culin calls attention to the reference to games in the myths of the

various tribes. Among those of the Pueblo people mention is made of the

divine Twins who live in the east and the west, rule the day and the night,



the Summer and the Winter, "Always contending they are the original patrons

of play and their games are the games now played by men." (Bureau of

American Ethnology, Vol. 24, p. 32.) It would lead too far afield to follow

the interesting relation between ceremonials and games, a relation that is

not peculiar to the culture found on the American Continent but which

obtains the world around. The environment of man in general outline is much

the same everywhere; the sun ever rises in the east and sets in the west;

day and night always follow each other; the winds play gently or rend with

force; the rains descend in showers or fall in floods; flowers and trees

spring up, come to maturity and then die. Therefore, when man has

questioned Nature as to the why and the wherefore of life, similar answers

have come from all parts of the earth; so it happens that man's games,

which often sportively reflect his serious thoughts, show a strange

similarity.



Indian games that depend upon chance, according to Dr. Culin, may be

divided "into those in which the hazard depends upon the random fall of

certain implements employed, like dice, and those in which it depends upon

the guess or choice of the player; one is objective, the other subjective."

Games of the first or objective class are generally played in silence,

while those of the second or subjective class, called guessing games, are

accompanied by singing. (Ibid., p. 44.)



In a game where the two sides contest, as in a ball game, the sides were

frequently played by two different tribes or by two villages in the same

tribe. In such cases the players often went through a course of training in

order to prepare them for the contest. Bathing, exercise and diet had to be

followed according to prescribed custom. Among the Cherokee the partaking

of rabbit was forbidden, because the animal is "timid, easily alarmed and

liable to lose its wits"; so if the player ate of this dish, he might

become infected with like characteristics. Mystic rites were sometimes

performed to prepare the player so that he would be successful. (Ibid.,

p. 575.)



According to the Indian belief, the pleasure of games was not restricted to

mankind but was enjoyed by birds and animals. The following story from the

Cherokee is told by Mr. James Mooney and quoted by Dr. Culin (Ibid., pp.

578, 579):



"The animals once challenged the birds to a great ball play. The wager was

accepted, the preliminaries were arranged, and at last the contestants

assembled at the appointed spot--the animals on the ground, while the birds

took position in the tree-tops to await the throwing up of the ball. On the

side of the animals were the bear, whose ponderous weight bore down all

opposition; the deer, who excelled all others in running; and the terrapin,

who was invulnerable to the stoutest blows. On the side of the birds were

the eagle, the hawk and the great Tlaniwa--all noted for their

swiftness and power of flight. While the latter were preening their

feathers and watching every motion of their adversaries below, they noticed

two small creatures, hardly larger than mice, climbing up the tree on which

was perched the leader of the birds. Finally they reached the top and

humbly asked the captain to be allowed to join in the game. The captain

looked at them a moment, and, seeing that they were four-footed, asked them

why they did not go to the animals where they properly belonged. The little

things explained that they had done so, but had been laughed at and

rejected on account of their diminutive size. On hearing their story the

bird captain was disposed to take pity on them, but there was one serious

difficulty in the way--how could they join the birds when they had no

wings? The eagle, the hawk and the rest now crowded around, and after some

discussion it was decided to try and make wings for the little fellows. But

how to do it! All at once, by a happy inspiration, one bethought himself of

the drum which was to be used in the dance. The head was made of ground-hog

leather, and perhaps a corner could be cut off and utilized for wings. No

sooner suggested than done. Two pieces of leather taken from the drumhead

were cut into shape and attached to the legs of one of the small animals,

and thus originated the bat. The ball was now tossed up and the bat was

told to catch it, and his expertness in dodging and circling about, keeping

the ball constantly in motion and never allowing it to fall to the ground,

soon convinced the birds that they had gained a most valuable ally. They

next turned their attention to the other little creature; and now behold a

worse difficulty! All their leather had been used in making wings for the

bat and there was no time to send for more. In this dilemma it was

suggested that perhaps wings might be made by stretching out the skin of

the animal itself. So two large birds seized him from opposite sides with

their strong bills, and by tugging and pulling at his fur for several

minutes succeeded in stretching the skin between the fore and hind feet

until at last the thing was done, and there was the flying squirrel. Then

the bird captain, to try him, threw up the ball, when the flying squirrel,

with a graceful bound, sprang off the limb and, catching it in his teeth,

carried it through the air to another tree-top a hundred feet away.



"When all was ready the game began, but at the very outset the flying

squirrel caught the ball and carried it up a tree, then threw it to the

birds, who kept it in the air for some time, when it dropped; but just

before it reached the ground the bat seized it, and by his dodging and

doubling kept it out of the way of even the swiftest of the animals until

he finally threw it in at the goal, and thus won the victory for the

birds."





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