At the heart of symbolism

Ballgames of the plains Indians


Old games

Some tribes of plains IndiansThe natives of the large plains of the western centre of North America occupied a vast territory with diverse environments. These variations certainly influenced the appearance of diversified cultures and visions. Their population counted about thirty tribes belonging to eight linguistic families. Moreover, some were nomads (Sioux, Cheyennes, Blackfeet…) and other seminomads (Mandans, Pawnees…). Neither the diversity of the groups nor the similarity within the same group did not exclude conflictswithin or between tribes. The possible disagreements then found an exit either in wars or gatherings around its simulacrum, the ball game.

The ball game or, more exactly, the ball games of the natives of North America are considered as among the oldest of the continent. If their course was reported for the first time around 1600, their practice certainly originated hundreds of years before and preceded the arrival of the first Europeans.

Game rules

The usual games could gather from 100 to 1000 people divided into two teams. The court amounted to an opened plain, limited by natural obstacles only. The goals consisted of large rocks or trees separated by 500 yards or even several miles. Later on, posts replaced trees.

The rules were often fixed by shamans, the day before the test.

At the beginning of each game, the ball was thrown in the air in the middle of the court. Then, both teams, located on either side, rushed to the ball. They had to push it using a kind of beater or to throw it with a stick prolonged by a loop surrounding a net. The pack could only slowly move the ball towards the opposite side. When the ball had reached the goal of one of the teams, the other was declared victorious, but for all that the game was not finished. The two teams changed side and a new set could begin. According to the (even) number of sets fixed, the game could proceed from sunrise to sunset and sometimes last several days in a row.

Even if the ball games could be used as outlet to conflicts, it was not their only and main goal however. Indeed, they were always preceded by rites intended to give them a sacred character corresponding to other purposes.

Detailed page