Object: Hand Game Set

E/2009/2/1 a-tt
Hand game set
Kiowa
Carnegie, OK
Ca. 2009
Materials: Painted wood and plastic pegs

This object is a Kiowa hand game set. The set consists of a rectangular painted wooden base (27.5” long by 8.5” high by 5” wide), 37 painted wooden rods that fit into holes along the top of the base (each rod is 12” long and 3/8” in diameter), and 8 pegs made of white plastic that fit into holes along the sides of the base (each peg is 4” long by 3/8” in diameter). Eighteen of the rods are on the left side and are painted dark blue with small white dots all over. Another 18 rods are placed on the right side and are painted in a mottled red and yellow design. There is a single central rod, painted blue with white dots on one end and mottled red and yellow on the other. Half of the pegs are decorated with 3 bands of color while the other half of the pegs are plain. Two decorated and two undecorated pegs are on each side of the base. The base is painted red with a mountain landscape outlined in yellow. Above the mountains, the rest of the base is painted dark blue with small white dots, possibly representing stars.  There is a yellow, red, and blue maple leaf emblem on the top center of the base.

The hand game, common to at least 81 different Native American tribes in North America, is a game of chance. Men, women, and children of all ages play this game. The game can vary in size size, from only a handful of people to around 50 people! Hand games go by many different names amongst the various tribes, including “stick games” or “hands and bones,” but all of them involve guessing in which hand an object, or series of objects, is hidden. This type of game is very old. In fact, Lewis and Clark mentioned this game in their records of meeting with the Nez Perce Indians of Idaho in the early 1800’s.

Generally, a bone, wooden, or plastic bead at least 2 inches long is the object being hidden. In many cases, there are multiple beads (usually two or four). There are always two teams that sit in rows across from each other. A scorekeeper and the musicians usually sit to one side. The game starts by drawing lots to see which team will get to have the bead (or beads) “in hand.” This means that they are the ones in possession of the bead and are responsible for hiding it. The players on the opposite side, who are to guess who is hiding the bead, must watch closely to keep track of where the players are trying to pass the bead from one hand to the other and from one person to another without exposing the bead to view. Each player in the row that has the bead “in hand” act as if they, specifically, are the one to have the bead in order to try to fool their opponents. The teams actively cheer on their own side while trying to distract the opposing team with songs and dances. Every time the opposing side correctly guesses where the bead is, they win a point. The side guessing continues to guess until they miss; then they switch and the other team guesses. The 30 (or more) counting sticks, sometimes referred to as arrows, are used to keep score. The first team to 10 points wins!

Take a look at this video to see a contemporary hand game from Oklahoma:

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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