by Alice C. Fletcher
INTRODUCTORY NOTE.—This ball game was known to a number of tribes that formerly lived on the prairies, and called by different names. The game as here given is as it was played among the Omaha. The opening of the game was ceremonial. The person who performed the opening ceremony had to belong to the tribal group that had charge of the rites pertaining to the Wind, for the figure outlined on the ground by the movements of the ball in the opening ceremony was one of the symbols of the Wind. The Wind when spoken of ceremonially was called the Four Winds, one for each of the four points of the compass. These Four Winds were regarded as the messengers of the Giver of Life, known as Wakon'da by the Omaha and kindred tribes. The recognition of man's connection with the forces of Nature did not disturb the pleasure of the Indian when entering upon a game; on the contrary, it tended to enhance his happiness by bringing to his mind his dependence upon Wakon'da, together with the feeling of being in accord with the power represented by the Wind.
Properties.—A ball about three or four inches in diameter; the Omaha and kindred tribes made the ball out of the root of the wild-grape vine. As many sticks as there are players, the sticks to be about three feet long and crooked over at one end. Each stick should be marked by some design invented by its owner, so that each player can identify his stick.
Directions.—A wide open field is best for this game. Two goals, one at the East, the other at the West. The goals are each made by two posts with a cross piece on top. The path of the ball is East and West.
The officers of the game are: an Umpire, four Guardians of the Path. Two of the Guardians of the Path stand at the eastern goal and two at the western goal. The two Guardians at a goal represent the two sides; one wears a yellow streamer or badge, the color of the West; the other wears a red streamer or badge, the color of the East. A red streamer is tied to the goal at the East and a yellow streamer to the goal at the West. It is the duty of the one who wears the color of the goal by which he stands to try and help the ball through the goal when it comes in that direction, and it is the duty of the one who wears the color of the opposite goal to prevent the ball from going through and to send it back into the field or toward the other goal.
The players on the two sides are chosen in the following manner: The person who is to act as Umpire and to perform the opening ceremony must sit in a circle drawn on the ground, about six feet in diameter, and face either the North or the South. All the sticks are placed before him in a bunch. He is then blindfolded. After that he picks up a stick with each hand and lays down the stick that he has in his right hand on his left side, the stick that he has in his left hand he lays down on his right side. When he has finished dividing the sticks in this manner they are in two bunches, one toward the East and the other toward the West. The blindfold is then removed. When that is done, all the players run to the two heaps and each takes his own stick, recognizing it by the design marked or cut upon the stick. All those whose sticks were in the pile to the East must tie on a badge or streamer the color of the East, red. All those whose sticks were in the bunch toward the West must tie on the color of the West, yellow.
All the players must now stand in two lines. One line starts from the circle and extends directly toward the goal at the East; all in this line must be only those whose sticks were in the east pile and who have on the color of the East, red. The other line starts from the circle and stretches out toward the west goal, and is composed of those whose sticks were in the west pile and who have on the color of the West, yellow. The four Guardians of the Path take their places. The Umpire wears no color. All being in readiness, the Umpire advances to the middle of the circle.
The Umpire places the ball in the exact center of the circle, then he gently urges it with his stick in a line toward the North until it reaches the edge of the circle. There he picks it up and puts it back in the center of the circle. Again he gently pushes it with his stick along a line toward the South until the edge of the circle is reached, when he returns the ball to the center of the circle with his hand. In the same manner as before he sends the ball slowly along a line to the West. When the edge of the circle is reached he picks up the ball and returns it to the center. Once more the ball is moved in a line, this time to the East; when it touches the line of the circle it is picked up as before and placed in the center of the circle. The symbolic figure that has thus been made is that of a circle within which two straight lines cross each other at right angles; the circle is divided into four quarters, one for each of the Four Winds.
Every player now stands at attention, with his stick ready for action. The Umpire pauses a moment at the center of the circle, then he picks up the ball lying there and throws it into the air as high as he can. All the players, who have watched the throw, run in the direction where the ball seems likely to descend, in order to have a chance to strike it toward one of the goals.
To win the game the ball must be sent through a goal; to strike it so that it goes over or around the goal does not count. The ball must be made to take a straight line, to "make a straight path" through a goal, then the game is won. When a good shot is made, all on the side of the one who made the stroke should send up a shout. When the goal is won the winning side should give the victory cry of the game, "Ta-bé!"