Indian Guessing Games

by Alice C. Fletcher

IV. Hiding the Disks

INTRODUCTORY NOTE.—This game, known under a variety of names, is a favorite among the Indian tribes living on the North Pacific Coast. The disks, always of an uneven number, are made of wood and ornamented with designs composed of segments of circles with groupings of dots. Some of the markings are regarded as cabalistic, and there are men who claim to have a knowledge of spells that will bring luck to the disks they ornament and treat; such disks are considered valuable and often command a high price. All of the disks in a set that is used in this game are ornamented alike except one; this must be different from the others. It may be decorated with red, for the sun, or with a dark color almost black, for the night. This disk is frequently called the "chief," and the aim of the game is to guess in which pile of disks the "chief" is hidden.

Properties.—A mat on which the game is played; a small mat on which the counting or tally-sticks are put; a board that is to serve as a drum; four drum-sticks; nine wooden disks about two and a half inches in diameter. The designs on the nine disks, the twenty tally-sticks and the four drum-sticks should be in color or burned into the wood. Eight of the disks should be decorated alike; the ninth must be different and have either red or brown as the predominating color; this disk is the "chief." A bundle of excelsior is to be the substitute for the fiber of cedar bark which is used by the Indians of the Northwest Coast when playing this game; if excelsior is not available, dry leaves or some other dry material might be substituted, within which, or under which, the disks could be hidden. All the articles used in this game except the mats should be made in camp.

Directions.—An uneven number of players is required for this game. The mat is laid east and west; at a little distance back to the northwest the small mat is placed and on it are put the twenty tally-sticks. In a line with the small mats to the northeast is laid the board around which the four singers and drummers sit. The bundle of excelsior, or whatever material is used in its place, together with the nine disks, is put at the western end of the mat; before these is the place for the player who is to hide the disks. On the northern and southern side of the mat sit the players who are to guess where the "chief" is hidden, three or four on a side. The messenger stands at the eastern end of the mat facing the player who is to hide the disks. Lots should be drawn to determine who of the six or eight players are to sit on the northern side and who on the southern side. The player who is to do the hiding of the disks can be either selected or drawn by lot. Whoever takes this part in the game should be capable of considerable dramatic action. Among the Indians the person who does the hiding of the disks personifies one who practices magic; he makes passes over the disks and the cedar fiber under which the disks are hidden, makes signs and movements, and does what he can to throw a spell of confusion over those who are to guess where the "chief" is hidden.

When the players about the mat, the singers about the board drum and the messenger standing at the eastern end of the mat are all in readiness, the singers begin the following song, keeping time by beating with their drum-sticks on the board drum; the players about the mat join in the singing.

Hiding the Disks

Hiding the disks

The player at the western end of the mat opens the bundle of excelsior or other material and spreads it on the mat and then puts all the nine disks under the material, making many movements as he does so, all of which must be in rhythm with the song, rolling the disks about under the material and finally dividing them into two parts, well covered up by the material. He continues to make passes with his hands as though invoking mysterious forces and to shuffle around the two piles of material in which the disks are hidden. Suddenly a player points to one of the piles; the player at the end ceases to shuffle and sends the disks concealed in the pile rolling down the mat to the messenger standing at the other end, who looks to see if the "chief" is among the disks rolled toward him. If he finds it, all of the players on the side of the guesser give the victory shout and the messenger goes to the small mat, brings one of the tally-sticks and stands it before the successful guesser. Then the messenger rolls the disks back to the other end of the mat where the person sits who hides the disks. That player begins again his passes and movements as he mixes together the nine disks and hides them under the material; then he divides the disks and the material under which they are hidden into two piles, shuffles them about until a player points to a pile, when he at once stops shuffling and sends the disks under the pile pointed at rolling down the mat to the messenger. If the "chief" is not found among the disks, the side to which the unsuccessful guesser belongs loses a point, and the messenger takes from the small mat a tally-stick and stands it at the end of the row of players on the opposite side. The disks are then sent spinning over the mat to the player who hides them. He mixes up the disks, hides them, shuffles the piles until another guess is made. If that guess should be by a player on the side that had just lost a point, and the guess prove to be successful—that is, the pile pointed at contain the "chief"—then the messenger takes the tally-stick that had been put at the end of the row of the opposite side and stands it in front of the successful guesser. He could not take back a tally-stick that had been won by a guess unless all the tally-sticks had been taken from the small mat. One side or the other must win twenty points to be victor in the game. In the process of winning the game the tally-sticks may therefore be taken back and forth before one side wins the entire twenty.

The victory shout is given only when a successful guess is made. The singing stops at a victory shout and is resumed as soon as the disks are rolled back to the player who hides the disks. He must be careful to keep all his dramatic actions and movements of hands, arms, body and head in rhythmic accord with the song. The steps and movements of the messenger must also be in time with the song.

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