This game is played among eighty-one Indian
tribes of the United States. The game bears different names in
the various languages of these tribes. Hand Game is a descriptive
term and not a translation of any native name; it refers to the
fact that the object is held in the hand during the play. The
following form of this game is the way it was formerly played
among the Nez Perce Indians of the State of Idaho. Lewis and
Clark, who were the first white men to record their meeting with
these Indians, mention this game, and Capt. Bonneville gives
an account of it when he visited the tribe during the third decade
of the last century.
Properties.—A bone or wooden bead about two inches
in length and half an inch in thickness; thirty counting sticks
(these are sometimes spoken of as arrows, and there are indications
that they were once arrows—the arrows of the twin gods);
a mat oblong in shape; two logs or pieces of board about the
length of the mat, and as many sticks (to be used as drum-sticks)
as players can sit on one side of the mat.
Directions.—The mat should be laid east and west,
the logs or boards put on the north and south edges and the counting
sticks placed in two piles of fifteen each on the ends of the
mat. The players sit on the ground, a row on each side of the
mat to the north and south. Lots are drawn to decide which side
shall have the bead "in hand." The Leader and the singers must
always stand behind the row of players who have the bead "in
hand." The opposite side must have the drum-sticks and beat on
the log or board in time with the singers.
When the players are seated in two rows, one on each side of
the mat, the Leader hands the bead to a player on the side that
has drawn the right to have the bead "in hand," and then takes
his place beside the singers, who stand behind that row, and
starts the following song. All in that row join in the singing.
Native American Songs - The Hand Game Song
The players on the opposite side, who are to guess who is hiding
the bead, at once begin to beat the time of the song on the log
or board that is in front of them, on the edge of the mat, and
at the same time they must watch the other side where the players
are trying to pass the bead from one hand to the other and from
one person to another without exposing the bead to view. In all
these actions the movements of hands, arms and body must be rhythmical
and in time with the song. All the players in the row that has
the bead "in hand" must act as if each one either had the bead
or was trying to pass it on, whether he actually has the bead
or does not have it.
When one on the opposite side thinks he detects the whereabouts
of the bead and is willing to risk a guess, he points his drum-stick
to the hand he thinks has the bead and cries, "Hi-i!" and the
hand indicated must be immediately opened so that all may see
whether the guess is correct or not. If the bead is seen to be
in the opened hand, the Leader calls out, "Success!" and goes
to the pile of counting sticks belonging to the side of the guesser,
takes one and stands it in the ground in front of the successful
guesser. The Leader then hands the bead to the player who has
won and proceeds to gather the drum-sticks and distribute them
to the players on the opposite side. The singers pass around
and take their places behind the row of players who now have
the bead "in hand." When all are in readiness, the Leader starts
the song again and the players begin their movements of secretly
passing the bead, while the other side beat time with their drum-sticks
on the log or board in front of them. The side that has the bead "in
hand" always does the singing, led by the Leader and singers,
who must stand at the rear of the row having the bead.
If a guess is incorrect the Leader goes to the pile of counting
sticks that belongs to the side which has the drum-sticks, takes
a counting stick and thrusts it in the ground in front of the
row opposite to the guesser; that means one lost to his side.
The bead in that instance remains on the same side until it is
won by the opposite side through a successful guess.
In this manner the game goes on until one side or the other
has won all the thirty counting sticks and become the victor
in the game.