Traditionally, contests and games served to teach, entertain, and substitute hostilities between men, women and leaders. Winners often had the right of absolute control over the life and property of the loser. Contests sometimes even resulted in death of the victim, but more often the confiscation of wives, slaves and property. In general, four distinct groups of contests and games existed – challenge contests, competitive games, sports and children’s games.
The bone gamble consisted of usually 14 or 16 players on each team. Players were generally men but occasionally included a woman. According to Marian W. Smith, author of “The Puyallup-Nisqually,” “the bones were made in pairs containing a male and female; each set was composed of two pairs, i.e. four bones.” Bones were generally made from a section of bone from the leg of a deer. The female bone was plain white while the male bone had a dark bound around its center. Players were seated in a line opposite from their opponents with supporters behind either side. Each side had a leader who guessed the position of the female or unmarked bones when they were held by the other side.
Beaver Tooth Game
The beaver tooth or dice game was played only by women. Four of the five teeth used were female and were marked on both sides by a line of dots following the curve of the tooth. The remaining male tooth was unmarked. According to Smith, “the natural form of the teeth gave to each gaming piece distinct upper and lower sides, the ‘back’ and the ‘belly.’” Players held the teeth and took turns throwing the teeth down on a mat with a forward motion. When the male tooth turned upon its belly the throw was lost.
There were two forms of the disc gamble or stick game. One was a simple gambling game, whereas the second was a ceremony of great importance. Unlike the bone gamble, the ceremonial version was synchronized with singing. As in the women’s beaver tooth game, players were seated at opposite ends of a long mat. Materials included mat, discs and tally sticks, all of which were kept together when not in use and well cared for. According to Smith, “they were regarded as ceremonial objects, an attitude shared toward the bones in the bone gamble.” The discs were round, flat wooden pieces made of yew or syringa. One disc was a different solid color, either black or white, from the other discs and was known as the male. The discs were held, covered with shredded bark and shaken. When shaking ceased, the bundle was divided into two sections, allowing the opponent to select the section in which he believed the male disc was concealed.
Marian W. Smith, “The Puyallup-Nisqually”
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