Message #381:
From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG
To:   Matthias Giessler
Subject: The Native American "Hidden-Ball" Game
Date: Sat Nov 22 22:01:50 1997

[ AzTeC / SWA SASIG ] :

[ An interesting web site for your review -- SASIG Ed. ]

The Native American "Hidden-Ball" Game
"At each guess the cries of opposing parties became deafening"

        -Frank Hamilton Cushing (1883) 

Frank Hamilton Cushing, an ethnologist with the Smithsonian
Institution, vividly described this game just as it was played in 
the 1860's by the Zuni tribe located in central Arizona. Called 
I'-yan-ko-lo-we it is one of the principal tribal games of the Zuni.
It is played by two parties, each made up of people from specific 

"[Eight players emerged from a four day fast] bearing four large 
wooden tubes, a ball of stone, and a bundle of thirty-six counting 
straws. With great ceremony, many prayers and incantations, the tubes
were deposited on two mock mountains of sand, either side of the 
"grand plaza." A crowd began to gather. Larger and noisier it grew,
until it became a surging clamorous black mass. Gradually two piles 
of fabrics - vessels, silver ornaments, necklaces, embroideries, and 
symbols representing horses, cattle, and sheep - grew to large 
proportions. Women gathered on the roofs around, wildly stretching 
forth articles for the betting; until one of the presiding priests 
called out a brief message. The crowd became silent. A booth was 
raised, under which two of the players retired; and when it was 
removed, the four tubes were standing on the mound of sand. A song 
and dance began. One by one three of the four opposing players were 
summoned to guess under which tube the ball was hidden. At each guess
the cries of the opposing parties became deafening, and their mock 
struggles approached the violence of mortal combat. The last guesser 
found the ball; and as he victoriously carried the latter and the 
tubes across to his own mound, his side scored 10. The process was 
repeated. The second guesser found the ball; his side scored 15, 
setting the other back 5. The counts numbered 100; but so complicated
were the winnings and losings on both sides, with each guess of 
either, that hour after hour the game went on and night closed in.
Fires were built in the plaza, cigarettes lighted, but still the 
game continued. Noisier and noisier grew the dancers, more and more
insulting and defiant their songs and epithets to the opposing 
crowd, until they fairly gnashed their teeth at one another, but 
no blows! Day dawned on the still uncertain contest; nor was it 
until the sun again touched the western horizon, that the hoarse, 
still defiant voices died away, and the victorious party bore off 
their 'mountains of gifts from the gods.'"

"Hidden-Ball" Game was played throughout pre-Columbian America even
among the most widely separated tribes.

1. This description first appeared in an article by Cushing in
The Century Magazine, v. 26, p. 37, May, 1883.

2. The description in the reference above was reprinted together
with additional information from Cushing and others in the Bureau 
of American Ethnology, 24th Annual Report, 1902-1903, p.374 and 
Traditional Native American Game
Native American Contributions