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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


October 18, 2003 - Issue 98


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Ancient Cherokee Games Are Still Played Today

by Tonia Weavel
credits: drawing of stickball game

drawing of stickball gamePark Hill, Okla. - On Saturday, Oct. 11, sports enthusiasts were be given the opportunity to show off their athletic abilities during the Cherokee Heritage Center’s Cherokee Games. The ancient games of marbles, cornstalk shooting, stickball, blowguns and chunkey are traditional games of skill that have been passed down for generations.

Stickball is a game that resembles the modern game of lacrosse but with a few fundamental differences. In the center of a large field is a tall pole with a wooden fish attached to the top. The object of the game is to hit the fish with a small ball made of deer hair and hide. Although women are allowed to use their hands to obtain and throw the ball, men must use sticks shaped like miniature tennis rackets.

The game of chunkey is played with a disk made of fine-grained stone approximately six inches in diameter. Hours are spent shaping and polishing the chunkey ball stones used for this game. Two players carry poles approximately eight feet long. As the stone is rolled across a smooth surface, the two competitors run and throw their poles where they think the ball will stop. The person whose pole lands closest to where the ball stops gains points.

The Cherokee marble game dates back to 800 A.D. The marbles are traditionally made of stone about the size of a billiard ball. The game is played on a field 100 feet long containing five holes approximately 10 yards apart forming an L shape. The object of the game is to toss the marbles in the holes advancing in sequence to the last hole and returning to the start. Team members may knock the opposite teams’ marbles out of the holes while trying not to move theirs too far away.

The cornstalk shoot goes back to the times when Cherokee hunters and warriors would compete for accuracy with their bow and arrow. To keep the tips of the arrows from breaking, participants shot through a large bank of dried cornstalks. Today the game is played in much the same way. A one-foot thick wall is created using approximately 200 cornstalks, three feet long, laid on their side. Two of these cornstalk targets are placed 80 to 100 yards apart. Participants must stand in front of a target and take one shot at the other target with their handmade bow. One point is scored for each cornstalk that the arrow penetrates.

Blowguns are usually made from rivercane, similar to bamboo, collected in early spring. A long, hot rod is inserted in the tip of the rivercane to remove the membrane and hollow the cane. Darts for this six to eight-feet long gun are typically made of Bois d’arc and thistle. Traditionally, the blowguns were used for hunting small game. Although blowguns are still used for hunting, they are primarily reserved for demonstration and competitions. Competitors shoot at a target approximately 20 yards away. Points are determined by the various values of the rings around the bull’s eye. Spectators and players are both welcomed to attend. Thanks to a sponsorship by the Gannett Foundation, cash prizes will be awarded to the winners in each competition.

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