Indigenous North American stickball is a team sport that originated from several Native American tribes, such as the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole, and Yuchi. It is similar to lacrosse, but played with two sticks per player and a small leather ball. The game has a long history and cultural significance in Native American society, as it was used to settle disputes, train warriors, and preserve traditions. Today, stickball is still played by some tribes and communities, and it is recognized as one of the oldest team sports in North America.
History of Stickball in Indigenous North American Culture
The exact origin of stickball is unknown, but it is believed to have been played for hundreds of years before the arrival of Europeans. One Cherokee legend tells of the first stickball game between the land animals and the birds, in which the birds used their speed and cunning to defeat the stronger animals.
Stickball was often called “the little brother of war” by some tribes, as it was used as a substitute for violent conflict between villages or tribes. The game was also a way of training young men for combat, as it required physical strength, endurance, and strategy.
Stickball was not only a sport, but also a social and ceremonial event. It was played as part of festivals, celebrations, and rituals, and it involved betting, dancing, singing, and feasting. The game was also a way of honoring the ancestors and the spirits, and of expressing tribal identity and pride.
How Is Indigenous North American Stickball Played
Traditional stickball games involved large numbers of players, ranging from a few dozen to over a thousand, from opposing villages or tribes.The teams were usually divided by clan, age, gender, or other criteria. The games were played on open fields or plains, and the goals were selected as large rocks, trees, or wooden posts, which could be several miles apart.
The rules of the game were decided by the elders or the medicine men before the game, and they varied from tribe to tribe. Generally, there was no out-of-bounds, and the ball could not be touched with the hands1 The game started with the ball being tossed into the air, and the players rushing to catch it with their sticks. The objective was to score points by hitting the opposing team’s goal with the ball, using only the sticks.
The game was very physical and competitive, and often involved tackling, wrestling, and fighting. Passing the ball was considered a trick, and dodging an opponent was seen as cowardly. The game could last for hours or days, until one team reached a certain number of points or conceded defeat.
Before the game, the players underwent various rituals to prepare themselves physically and mentally. These included fasting, praying, smudging, painting, and tattooing. The players also received advice and blessings from the medicine men, who acted as coaches and referees1 The medicine men also performed ceremonies to influence the outcome of the game, such as invoking the spirits, making offerings, and casting spells.
The equipment used in stickball consisted of two sticks and a ball. The sticks were handcrafted from hickory or other hardwoods, and they had a curved end with a net or a pouch made of leather or sinew. The sticks were about two feet long, and they were decorated with feathers, beads, and paint. The ball was made of a small piece of wood or stone, covered with leather or animal hide, and stuffed with hair or fur. The ball was about the size of a walnut, and it weighed about an ounce.
Significance and Legacy of Stickball in Indigenous Culture
Connection to warfare and strategy
Stickball was more than a game for the Native Americans, it was a way of life. The game was closely linked to warfare and strategy, as it taught the players how to cooperate, communicate, and compete. The game also helped to resolve conflicts and maintain peace among the tribes, as it provided a safer and more honorable alternative to bloodshed.The game also fostered a sense of community and solidarity among the players and the spectators, as they cheered, chanted, and celebrated together.
Preservation of cultural traditions
Stickball was also a way of preserving and passing on the cultural traditions and values of the Native Americans. The game was a form of oral history, as it reflected the legends, myths, and beliefs of the tribes. The game was also a form of art, as it showcased the craftsmanship, creativity, and aesthetics of the tribes. The game was also a form of spirituality, as it expressed the connection and respect for the natural world, the ancestors, and the spirits.
Contemporary Interest in Stickball and Its Representation
Today, stickball is still played by some Native American tribes and communities, especially in Oklahoma and the Southeastern U.S. The game has evolved and adapted to the modern times, with some changes in the rules, equipment, and venues. The game is still a source of pride and identity for the Native Americans, and it is often played at tribal gatherings, festivals, and fairs.
Stickball has also attracted interest and attention from the wider society, as it is recognized as one of the oldest and most unique team sports in North America. The game has been featured in various media, such as books, films, documentaries, and websites, and it has inspired some artists, writers, and scholars. The game has also been compared and contrasted with lacrosse, which is derived from stickball but has become more popular and mainstream.
Indigenous North American stickball is a team sport that originated from several Native American tribes, and it is similar to lacrosse. The game has a long history and cultural significance in Native American society, as it was used to settle disputes, train warriors, and preserve traditions. Today, stickball is still played by some tribes and communities, and it is recognized as one of the oldest team sports in North America. Stickball is a fascinating and important aspect of Native American culture, and it deserves more respect and appreciation.