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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


March 8, 2003 - Issue 82


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The Game of "Peone"

This game is from the Kumeyaay website. They have generously allowed us to share it with you. You can find more stories and information at their site at
credits: These game pieces were made from bone, to be hidden in the game of Peone! Courtesy of the Barona Virtual Museum

These game pieces were made from bone, to be hidden in the game of Peone! "Peone" is a highly competitive game of complex strategy, skill and calculation.

It is played with eight players - four on each side, with an additional man or woman to act as umpire (Koymi). The two sides are usually made up of male or female players from different tribes or bands. The object of the game is for one side to win all the tally sticks.

Much betting accompanies the game among both the men and the women. The game may be won in a short time, or it may - as frequently happens - prolong itself through an entire night, until the early morning, with several hundred dollars changing hands!

How Peone is Played:
Someone will select a smooth vacant place and build a small fire and spread his blanket and sit down. He will then holler "pe-own-e." No one seems to pay any attention to him. By and by, he will again holler "Pe-own-e." Then perhaps someone will come and sit down with him and hold his blanket on his lap. Eventually a couple more will come until there is a full team on each side. There seems to be no hurry. Each side has a blanket. Others from each tribe - or band -will come and stand behind the players while the game is in progress and sing the "Peone Songs" as the game is in progress. The songs have meaning and tell a story. They also set the mood for the game.

Tally Sticks:
The man or woman by the fire (at the head of the two lines of players) has fifteen tally sticks which are divided between the two sides - seven to one side and eight to the other.

These sticks are about fourteen inches long, and a quarter of an inch in diameter, having either the tip or sometimes the entire length painted in red, or in decorative designs.

Peone Sticks:
The game itself is played with eight "peone sticks"- four white, and four black (usually made of sheep bone or coyote bone). They are about three inches long and a quarter of an inch in diameter.

Each Peone Stick has a hole through the center with a string drawn through. The string is slipped over the wrist in a slip noose, the object being to prevent any possibility of trickery when the call comes to "show" (by shifting the stick from one hand to the other).

Playing Peone:
When all the players are ready to begin the game the end players take up the blanket, and hold it in their teeth. Behind each blanket, the players slip the noose over their wrists, holding the stick in their hands, which they then conceal under the armpits.

The players chosen to do the guessing must then guess in which hand the white or black stick is concealed. When he or she has made up their mind they clap their hands and point to where they have decided the black or white stick should be. At the same time calling out their decision to the Koymi, or referee.

The Koymi, at the end awards tally sticks corresponding to the number of correct guesses from one side to the other. The game is won when one side wins all of the tally sticks.

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