SULPHUR, OKLAHOMA — The most popular games always seem to be the simplest.
Take the game of marbles, Chickasaw style.
Competitors roll a rock toward a hole.
If it goes in they advance to the next hole a few inches farther, kind of like putt-putt golf.
Chickasaw historian Jesse Lindsey says, “Marbles is more of a game to keep the children busy.”
Lindsey grew up playing games passed down through a hundred generations or more.
His uncle taught him the game of chunkey.
It involves a group of spear throwers and a round rock.
Jesse explains, “We roll this stone and the closest spear that gets to it before it stops is the winner.”
Most people are familiar with the game of lacrosse, but its origins lie with the Indian game of stickball.
Re-enactors at the Chickasaw Cultural Center demonstrate a friendly game between two teams drawn up of both men and women.
The object is to throw the ball and hit a tall pole or the fish on top.
Men have to use lacrosse sticks to handle the deer skin ball.
Female players can use their hands.
There aren’t very many rules beyond those.
Serious games used to involve hundreds of warriors and often meant broken bones, even the occasional death.
“The only rules,” says Lindsey, “are that you can’t throw too much blood on anybody. That’s the only rule they had back then. Now they got rules.”
For a century, from removal times in the 1830’s to the mid-1930’s, these simple games were outlawed in an attempt to force tribes to integrate into American society.
The Chickasaws, Choctaws, and Cherokees played them secretly anyway.
“We’ve been playing them ever since. Keeping it going,” says Jesse. “even when we weren’t supposed to.”
They kept the old pastimes alive because they were fun and because they were part of their culture.
Like the old stomp dance, their echoes trace back thousands of years.
On long weekends, when they break from the regular work of making a living, the games still live.
The Chickasaw Cultural Center hosts regular demonstrations of traditional games and dances.
For more information go to http://www.chickasawculturalcenter.com