In earlier posts, I went into great depth about ancient Greek sports and the artwork that showed us how it all came about. It was also mentioned that many ancient sporting events were a challenge to the death or something equally as tragic. For Native Americans as well as the Aborigines of Australia, it was not quite as bloody. In fact, these indigenous cultures developed games that were more spiritually based and embodied ways to teach a healthier way of living. Although these cultures mainly applied their art to practical applications such as basket weaving, we do see some artwork that has proven the history behind their activities.
Author Danielle M. Lazore, of culturesurvival.org, discusses the importance of the life teachings used in sports and games in Native American culture. “Different versions of the hoop and pole game played by the Zuni, Hopi, Sioux, and Cheyenne demonstrate the role games played in skill development.” One such version called, “Tchung Kee,” played by the Mandan tribe, is depicted in a colorful painting by George Catlin in 1892 that can be found at carl-leonard.com. Lazore explains, “A hoop with an inner web-like mesh is rolled along the ground. An attempt is made by the players-usually boys or men-to pierce it with a spear or an arrow shot from a bow. Thus, by playing the game, they sharpened their aim and hunting skills.” These skills eventually carried over from origins in a tribal game played by eastern Woodlands Native Americans and by some Plains Indians tribes into what is now lacrosse. The game was modified by European immigrants to North America until it is now in its current collegiate and professional form.
These early lacrosse games were taken very seriously and entailed a lot of spiritual reflection and even special dieting. Of course, art work has provided us with proof through another piece of work by George Catlin. His work, along with a few other images at filacrosse.com, show the early days of Lacrosse. Danielle M. Lazore further states, “Not only did lacrosse provide a means to challenge oneself physically, it was nicknamed the "little brother of war.” It was also considered a gift from the Creator, played for various spiritual reasons, and used to heal the sick. Various other ceremonial rituals such as abstinence were practice before playing lacrosse and its variations. “The Cherokee,” Lazore adds, “did not eat certain foods such as the meat of the timid rabbit, the meat of the weak-boned frog, or the meat of other slow-moving animals.”
Other Indigenous cultures, such as the Aborigines of Australia, are just as connected to their traditional sports and games as Native American cultures. Their connection is important since a lot of their traditions and art work have been lost after white colonization and the eradication of most of their culture. According to creativiespirits.info, “Today, extensive consultation with Aboriginal elders is necessary to re-establish the traditional Aboriginal games and their rules.” Such games are known by different names but are very similar to today’s modern sports activities.
The game of “Keentan,” as discussed on creativespirtis.info, is much like today’s basketball. Keentan is described as, “A keep-away game of catch ball played by both genders. The game was also called the ‘kangaroo-play’ because the players jumping up to catch the ball resembled the movements of a kangaroo.” Another popular sport known as “Woggabaliri,” resembles that of football, where a ball made of possum fur spun by the women of the tribe was used.
The very popular game of “Marn Grook,” was also similar to football and a possum ball was also utilized. Many sources even say that Marn Grook had a role in forming the rules of football today and for what is known as the “Australian Rules Football,” the official football organization for Australia. Take a look at an illustration of the game being played in its traditional form on Wikipedia! Another illustration can be found at Sydney.edu.au where a full blown match is portrayed.
Take some time to look at creativespirits.info to familiarize yourself with the many other traditional games of the aborigines. Get creative, but be safe, and try some of these unique games on your own!