Indian Ball Games

by Alice C. Fletcher

Hoop and Javelin

INTRODUCTORY NOTE.—This game was widely known and played among the various tribes dwelling within the territory now occupied by the United States. In its passage from one tribe to another the game became modified into several types, but the fundamental character was not changed, so that all these types are, in a sense, a unit. The game is very old upon this land; the articles used in playing it have been found in ancient graves, in the cliff dwellings of the Southwest and in various ruins scattered over the country.

Among the Pueblo tribes the articles used in types of this game appear among the paraphernalia on altars prepared for certain ceremonies. From a study of these ceremonies in connection with the myths of the people it seems probable that the hoop used in this game represents the shield of the War God. When the hoop has a netting that fills the center and covers the edges, the netting simulates the magic web of the Spider Woman, a person that frequently figures in the myths and stories of different tribes. Her web generally serves as a protection furnished by her in a conflict.

The netted hoop appears as a decoration upon the interior of pottery bowls formerly made by the Indians of the Southwest. In some of these bowls the netting is dotted with spots. Dr. Culin regards this particular design "as representing the spider web with the dew upon it," and adds: "The 'water shield' [of one of the Zuñi War Gods], from which he shook the torrents, was suggested, no doubt, by dew on the web." (Ibid., p.425.) To one unfamiliar with the Indian's habit of mind it may seem strained to connect the beads of dew on a spider's web with the torrential rain, but to one familiar with native thought as expressed in myths where the Indian has dramatized his conceptions of nature and of natural forces and phenomena, the connection ceases to be strange.

On the Pueblo altars the netted shield is always associated with arrows, bows or darts. In the various types of this game the arrows, darts, bows, javelins and lances that are associated with the hoop are interchangeable, some tribes using one and other tribes another. Under all the varied types with their different forms as found among scattered and unrelated tribes the game holds to its original significance, primarily religious in character, being an appeal for the protection and the perpetuity of life.

Only two articles are required for this game, the hoop and the javelin. In one type the hoop is covered with a netting more or less closely and elaborately woven. In all the netted designs it is usually possible to trace a figure as of a path crossing at right angles in the center of the space within the hoop and ending at four equidistant points on the edge of the hoop. This path indicates the path of the Four Winds, which stand with their life-giving power at the four directions, the North, East, South and West. In some localities the netting of the hoop is made from the yucca, in other places corn husks are used. With the closely netted hoop arrows are apt to be found. Some of these have as the shaft a corn cob with a stick about eighteen inches long thrust through the cob, sharpened at the lower end and a tuft of feathers tied to the upper end; this feathered stick is a prayer-stick such as is offered at a shrine.

In another type of the game the hoop is of stone; the lance is associated with this kind of hoop.

There are a variety of nettings for the hoop and much diversity in the style of arrows, darts and javelins used in the game.

The simplest is chosen to be here presented, for the reason that both the articles used in the game should be made in the camp where it is to be played. The hoop and javelins were always made by the youths who joined in the sport, and the making of hoop and javelin was part of the fun.

Hoop and Javelin

Properties.—A hoop and two javelins.

The hoop is made in the following manner: A piece of rope, not of a heavy kind, about sixteen inches long will give the foundation for a hoop about four inches in diameter. The two ends should be spliced together so as to leave the edge of the hoop even. The ring of rope is wound with a strip of leather or cloth in order to give the hoop such a surface that it can roll and yet be flexible and light.

The javelin is made of three parts, the shaft and the two barbs. The shaft is of wood, four feet long, round and smooth. An inch from one end a

Directions. — A level course from North to South and from fifty to one hundred feet long. Four players; two stand at the north end of the course and two at the south end. The one whose place is toward the East on the north and the one who stands toward the East on the south end are partners. Both of these players should wear a red band about the head, as red is the color of the East. The two players who stand toward the West at the two ends are partners, and these should wear yellow bands about their heads, yellow being the color of the West. The opponents in the game, therefore, stand side by side. Partners cannot help each other in the playing, but both players count for their side all the points they make.

The javelin is grasped by the middle, the barbed end toward the back, and the plain rounded end is shot toward the hoop.

The number of points that will constitute the game should be decided upon before beginning the game. Ten is the usual number among the Indians. Lots should be drawn as to which of the four players should be the first to throw the hoop. The one who draws the hoop then takes one of the javelins, and the player whose place is beside him takes the other javelin.

The Game

At a signal, the players with the javelins and the hoop start on a run along the course; the one with the hoop throws it a little upward with all his force and both players watch the course of the hoop, having their javelins ready to hurl at the hoop the instant they think they can reach it. If the javelin passes through the hoop and stops it so that it falls on the shaft below the band that was cut thereon, that throw counts two. If the hoop is caught on one of the barbs, that counts one. If the shaft goes entirely through the hoop so that it does not fall on the javelin, that counts nothing. If both javelins catch on the hoop, that is a draw and neither player can count the point made. If on this run and throwing of the hoop and javelins neither of the players scores a count, the player at the other end who is the partner of the one who threw the hoop now takes the hoop to throw it. He and his opponent who stands beside him now start on a run; the hoop is thrown and the javelins hurled as before. In this way the players at the ends of the course alternate in throwing the hoop North or South, but the right to throw the hoop belongs to the player who makes the best point. The hoop thus passes from the east or west players according to the points made.

The game is an athletic sport, and much skill can be developed in the throwing of the javelins and also in the tossing of the hoop so as to prevent scoring by the opponent.

If the grounds are large enough, there is nothing to prevent having two courses and two games going on at the same time.

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