About Handgames

This post was inspired by a FaceBook video of Dene elders hard at play, publicly posted on FaceBook by Patrick Yakinneah, and embedded here with Patrick’s permission. Another piece on Dene handgame was produced by the CBC, and can be viewed at CBC North. These videos are great, but a couple of Cree elders who saw Patrick’s video were quick to point out that handgames didn’t just belong to the Dene people (though they probably encountered less colonial interference further north, permitting people to continue to enjoy them.) 

Edward Gordon Beauchamp commented that he was about 8 years old when he saw this game being played, but he never saw it again. He is close to 86 now. He saw it in Grouard, Alberta.

George Cardinal commented that the game is still played by the northern Cree (speakers of the northern y-dialect, or Bush Cree. Though he’s a youngster, only 65, he says he’s played the game himself.

Youtube also includes videos of annual new year’s handgames at Saddle Lake and in other Cree communities. 

Following here are two Cree handgame stories, collected with thanks to Barry Ahenakew and Roy Thunderchild (whose story was sent via Ramona Washburn). Rendering into SRO thanks to Solomon Ratt. 

Elder Barry Ahenakew gave us the following story in Cree (y-dialect): 

mêtoni kayâs anima ohci mêtawêwin. kî-ây-âcimêwak mâna ê-mâh-mawinêhitocik. pêyak âcimowin nêhiyaw awa pêyak ê-papâmitêhtapit kâ-kî-ohtîtâhk waciston ispimihk ê-astêyik mistikohk, ê-iskwahtawêt êsa mîkwana ê-nitonawât. mêkwâ wacistonihk ê-ayapit kâ-tatakotêhtapiyit âyahciyiniwa. kâ-kêswân êsa awa âyahciyiniw wîsta ê-kî-wî-pê-manahot mîkwana.

ᒣᑐᓂ ᑲᔮᐢ ᐊᓂᒪ ᐅᐦᒋ ᒣᑕᐍᐏᐣ᙮ ᑮ ᐋᕀ ᐋᒋᒣᐘᐠ ᒫᓇ ᐁ ᒫᐦ ᒪᐏᓀᐦᐃᑐᒋᐠ᙮ ᐯᔭᐠ ᐋᒋᒧᐏᐣ ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐤ ᐊᐘ ᐯᔭᐠ ᐁ ᐸᐹᒥᑌᐦᑕᐱᐟ ᑳ ᑮ ᐅᐦᑏᑖᕽ ᐘᒋᐢᑐᐣ ᐃᐢᐱᒥᕽ ᐁ ᐊᐢᑌᔨᐠ ᒥᐢᑎᑯᕽ, ᐁ ᐃᐢᑿᐦᑕᐍᐟ ᐁᓴ ᒦᑿᓇ ᐁ ᓂᑐᓇᐚᐟ᙮ ᒣᒁ ᐘᒋᐢᑐᓂᕽ ᐁ ᐊᔭᐱᐟ ᑳ ᑕᑕᑯᑌᐦᑕᐱᔨᐟ ᐋᔭᐦᒋᔨᓂᐘ᙮ ᑳ ᑫᔃᐣ ᐁᓴ ᐊᐘ ᐋᔭᐦᒋᔨᓂᐤ ᐑᐢᑕ ᐁ ᑮ ᐑ ᐯ ᒪᓇᐦᐅᐟ ᒦᑿᓇ᙮

This game comes from long ago. The told stories of challenging each other. One story is of a Cree who was out riding his horse when he arrived at a nest, the nest was up in a tree. He climbed up as he was looking for feathers. While he was in the nest a stranger (Blackfoot) arrived riding. By coincidence, the stranger was also looking to gather feathers.

pikw âni ati-mêtawêwak ê-misi-kâcikêk. nêhiyaw piyisk mosêskatêhwêw âyaciyiniwa têpakohp kîsikâw ê-mawinêhotocik. nêhiyaw kâwi pê-kîwêw kîwêtinotâhk ê-pêsiwât mîkwana kâ-kî-manâhot miksiw wacistonihk ohci, mîna âyahciyiniw otayawinisiyiwa mîna otêmiyiwa.

ᐱᑯ ᐋᓂ ᐊᑎ ᒣᑕᐍᐘᐠ ᐁᒥᓯ ᑳᒋᑫᐠ᙮  ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐤ ᐱᔨᐢᐠ ᒧᓭᐢᑲᑌᐦᐍᐤ ᐋᔭᒋᔨᓂᐘ ᑌᐸᑯᐦᑊ ᑮᓯᑳᐤ ᐁ ᒪᐏᓀᐦᐅᑐᒋᐠ᙮ ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐤ ᑳᐏ ᐯ ᑮᐍᐤ ᑮᐍᑎᓄᑖᕽ ᐁ ᐯᓯᐚᐟ ᒦᑿᓇ ᑳ ᑮ ᒪᓈᐦᐅᐟ ᒥᐠᓯᐤ ᐘᒋᐢᑐᓂᕽ ᐅᐦᒋ, ᒦᓇ ᐋᔭᐦᒋᔨᓂᐤ ᐅᑕᔭᐏᓂᓯᔨᐘ ᒦᓇ ᐅᑌᒥᔨᐘ᙮

Anyway they begin to play, they played handgames. On the seventh day the Cree had stripped the stranger of his clothes. The Cree came back northward bringing with him the feathers that he had gathered from the Eagle’s nest, he also brought with him the stranger’s belongings, his clothes, and his horse.

âha, kêhtê-ayak otâcimowiniwâ ôma ohci ê-misi-kâcikêhk. namôya nikî-âtotên ita kâ-wîtaskîhocik ê-âpacihtâcik ocihciwâwa ê-ayitinikêcik mîna kâ-ati-mawinêhitocik mahti awîna ka-tipêyihmât mîkwana, ê-astwâkêcik otâpacihcikaniwâwa, onîmâskwâniwâwa, otayawinisiwâwa, êkwa otêmiwâwa.

ᐋᐦᐊ, ᑫᐦᑌ ᐊᔭᐠ ᐅᑖᒋᒧᐏᓂᐚ ᐆᒪ ᐅᐦᒋ ᐁ ᒥᓯ ᑳᒋᑫᕽ᙮ ᓇᒨᔭ ᓂᑮ ᐋᑐᑌᐣ ᐃᑕ ᑳ ᐑᑕᐢᑮᐦᐅᒋᐠ ᐁᐋᐸᒋᐦᑖᒋᐠ ᐅᒋᐦᒋᐚᐘ ᐁ ᐊᔨᑎᓂᑫᒋᐠ ᒦᓇ ᑳ ᐊᑎ ᒪᐏᓀᐦᐃᑐᒋᐠ ᒪᐦᑎ ᐊᐑᓇ ᑲ ᑎᐯᔨᐦᒫᐟ ᒦᑿᓇ, ᐁᐊᐢᑤᑫᒋᐠ ᐅᑖᐸᒋᐦᒋᑲᓂᐚᐘ, ᐅᓃᒫᐢᒁᓂᐚᐘ, ᐅᑕᔭᐏᓂᓯᐚᐘ, ᐁᑿ ᐅᑌᒥᐚᐘ᙮

Yes, this is the Elders story about the handgames. I did not tell of how they made peace using sign language and also about their challenge on who owns the feathers, and of their wager of their belongings, their weapons, their clothes, and their horses.

Ramona Washburn provided the following text by Roy Thunderchild (with translation into Cree by Solomon Ratt). 

êwako ôma âcimowin ka-âtotahk tânisi kâ-pê-isi-otinahkik pisikamikêwin nêhiyawak. pêyakwâw êsa ôki nêhiyawak kî-nitawi-nataminahowak paskwâwi-mostosa nêtê ayahciyinînâhk. kî-wêskawâhikwêhikwak ayahciyiniwa. aniki ayahciyiniwak kêkâc kahkiyaw kî-mêscihêwak êwakoni nêhiyawa, pêyak piko nêhiyaw kî-paspîw mâka mistahi kî-kakwâtaki-wîsakahwâw, kêkâc ê-kî-nipahiht. kî-paspîhêwak ka-kitahamâkêcik êkâ kotaka ka-pê-nataminahoyit otaskîwâhk.

ᐁᐘᑯ ᐆᒪ ᐋᒋᒧᐏᐣ ᑲ ᐋᑐᑕᕽ ᑖᓂᓯ ᑳ ᐯ ᐃᓯ ᐅᑎᓇᐦᑭᐠ ᐱᓯᑲᒥᑫᐏᐣ ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐘᐠ᙮ ᐯᔭᒁᐤ ᐁᓴ ᐆᑭ ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐘᐠ ᑮ ᓂᑕᐏ ᓇᑕᒥᓇᐦᐅᐘᐠ ᐸᐢᒁᐏ ᒧᐢᑐᓴ ᓀᑌ ᐊᔭᐦᒋᔨᓃᓈᕽ᙮ ᑮ ᐍᐢᑲᐚᐦᐃᑵᐦᐃᑿᐠ ᐊᔭᐦᒋᔨᓂᐘ᙮ ᐊᓂᑭ ᐊᔭᐦᒋᔨᓂᐘᐠ ᑫᑳᐨ ᑲᐦᑭᔭᐤ ᑮ ᒣᐢᒋᐦᐁᐘᐠ ᐁᐘᑯᓂ ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐘ, ᐯᔭᐠ ᐱᑯ ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐤ ᑮ ᐸᐢᐲᐤ ᒫᑲ ᒥᐢᑕᐦᐃ ᑮ ᑲᒁᑕᑭ ᐑᓴᑲᐦᐚᐤ, ᑫᑳᐨ ᐁ ᑮ ᓂᐸᐦᐃᐦᐟ᙮ ᑮ ᐸᐢᐲᐦᐁᐘᐠ ᑲ ᑭᑕᐦᐊᒫᑫᒋᐠ ᐁᑳ ᑯᑕᑲ ᑲ ᐯ ᓇᑕᒥᓇᐦᐅᔨᐟ ᐅᑕᐢᑮᐚᕽ᙮

So there was a group of Cree men who went down to Blackfoot territory to hunt buffalo. They got ambushed by a group of Blackfoot men. The Blackfoot men killed them all except for one Cree man but they left him badly injured, almost dead. They left him alive to warn others about going into their territory.

êwako awa nêhiyaw kî-pah-pimisin sisonê sîpîsisihk ita ê-wâsakâm-iyayâki mistikwa mistikwa êkwa ispatinaw. êkota pah-pimisin ê-wawânêyihtahk tânisi ôma ka-itôtahk mîna ê-kakwâtaki-wîsakahpinêt kâ-itêyihtahk kîkway ê-pisiskâpahtahk sisonê sîpîsisihk. mêtoni êsa kêkâc ê-tikinêpayit, pasakwâpiw êkwa ispîhk kâ-tohkâpit wâpamêw mêmêkwêsiwa. kihtwâm pasakwâpiw êkwa ispîhk kihtwâm kâ-tohkâpit wâpamêw ôhi mêmêkwêsiwa êsa ê-kî-wâsâskawêwikot. êkota ohci ohpinikow. êkwa tikinêpayiw.

ᐁᐘᑯ ᐊᐘ ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐤ ᑮ ᐸᐦ ᐱᒥᓯᐣ ᓯᓱᓀ ᓰᐲᓯᓯᕽ ᐃᑕ ᐁ ᐚᓴᑳᒼ ᐃᔭᔮᑭ ᒥᐢᑎᑿ ᒥᐢᑎᑿ ᐁᑿ ᐃᐢᐸᑎᓇᐤ᙮ ᐁᑯᑕ ᐸᐦ ᐱᒥᓯᐣ ᐁ ᐘᐚᓀᔨᐦᑕᕽ ᑖᓂᓯ ᐆᒪ ᑲ ᐃᑑᑕᕽ ᒦᓇ ᐁ ᑲᒁᑕᑭ ᐑᓴᑲᐦᐱᓀᐟ ᑳ ᐃᑌᔨᐦᑕᕽ ᑮᑿᕀ ᐁ ᐱᓯᐢᑳᐸᐦᑕᕽ ᓯᓱᓀ ᓰᐲᓯᓯᕽ᙮ ᒣᑐᓂ ᐁᓴ ᑫᑳᐨ ᐁ ᑎᑭᓀᐸᔨᐟ, ᐸᓴᒁᐱᐤ ᐁᑿ ᐃᐢᐲᕽ ᑳ ᑐᐦᑳᐱᐟ ᐚᐸᒣᐤ ᒣᒣᑵᓯᐘ᙮ ᑭᐦᑤᒼ ᐸᓴᒁᐱᐤ ᐁᑿ ᐃᐢᐲᕽ ᑭᐦᑤᒼ ᑳ ᑐᐦᑳᐱᐟ ᐚᐸᒣᐤ ᐆᐦᐃ ᒣᒣᑵᓯᐘ ᐁᓴ ᐁ ᑮ ᐚᓵᐢᑲᐍᐏᑯᐟ᙮ ᐁᑯᑕ ᐅᐦᒋ ᐅᐦᐱᓂᑯᐤ᙮ ᐁᑿ ᑎᑭᓀᐸᔨᐤ᙮

Well this Cree man was lying by a creek bed with some trees hills around. He was laying there wondering what he was going to do and in so much pain he thought he saw something by the creek bed. He was losing consciousness. He closed his eyes and when he opened them he saw little men. He closed his eyes again and when he opened them he could see that little men were surrounding him. They then went to pick him up. He then lost consciousness.

kî-koskopayiw tâpiskôc wâtihk ê-ayât. pêhtam kitohcikêwin mâka namôya kî-waspâsow kinwêsk, kâwi-tikinêpayiw, êkosi ispayihikow nîso kîsikâw, ê-tah-tikinêpayitm êkwa ê-pah-pêhtahk kitohcikêwin tahtwâw kâ-koskopayit. kapê êsa mêmêkwêsiwa nâkatêyimikow. pîyisk nisto kîsikâw ê-ispayiyik kaskihtâw kita-waspâwêt nawac kinwêsîs. kaskihtâw êkwa ta-simatapit êkwa wâpahtam kîkway kâ-kî-pêhtahk. kî-wâpamêw ôhi mêmêkwêsiwa ê-mêtawêyit pêyak mêtawêwin êkwa kanawâpamêw ê-kiskinawâpamât tânisi kâ-isi-mêtawêyit. êwakonik ôki mêmêkwêsiwak mêtawêwak ôma mêtawêwin, nêwo kîsikâw kapê ê-pimi-mêtawêcik êkosi ta-wîcihâcik ôhi nêhiyawa ta-nanâtawêhoyit.

ᑮ ᑯᐢᑯᐸᔨᐤ ᑖᐱᐢᑰᐨ ᐚᑎᕽ ᐁ ᐊᔮᐟ᙮ ᐯᐦᑕᒼ ᑭᑐᐦᒋᑫᐏᐣ ᒫᑲ ᓇᒨᔭ ᑮ ᐘᐢᐹᓱᐤ ᑭᓊᐢᐠ, ᑳᐏ ᑎᑭᓀᐸᔨᐤ, ᐁᑯᓯ ᐃᐢᐸᔨᐦᐃᑯᐤ ᓃᓱ ᑮᓯᑳᐤ, ᐁ ᑕᐦ ᑎᑭᓀᐸᔨᐟᒼ ᐁᑿ ᐁ ᐸᐦ ᐯᐦᑕᕽ ᑭᑐᐦᒋᑫᐏᐣ ᑕᐦᑤᐤ ᑳ ᑯᐢᑯᐸᔨᐟ᙮ ᑲᐯ ᐁᓴ ᒣᒣᑵᓯᐘ ᓈᑲᑌᔨᒥᑯᐤ᙮ ᐲᔨᐢᐠ ᓂᐢᑐ ᑮᓯᑳᐤ ᐁ ᐃᐢᐸᔨᔨᐠ ᑲᐢᑭᐦᑖᐤ ᑭᑕ ᐘᐢᐹᐍᐟ ᓇᐘᐨ ᑭᓊᓰᐢ᙮ ᑲᐢᑭᐦᑖᐤ ᐁᑿ ᑕ ᓯᒪᑕᐱᐟ ᐁᑿ ᐚᐸᐦᑕᒼ ᑮᑿᕀ ᑳ ᑮ ᐯᐦᑕᕽ᙮ ᑮ ᐚᐸᒣᐤ ᐆᐦᐃ ᒣᒣᑵᓯᐘ ᐁ ᒣᑕᐍᔨᐟ ᐯᔭᐠ ᒣᑕᐍᐏᐣ ᐁᑿ ᑲᓇᐚᐸᒣᐤ ᐁ ᑭᐢᑭᓇᐚᐸᒫᐟ ᑖᓂᓯ ᑳ ᐃᓯ ᒣᑕᐍᔨᐟ᙮ ᐁᐘᑯᓂᐠ ᐆᑭ ᒣᒣᑵᓯᐘᐠ ᒣᑕᐍᐘᐠ ᐆᒪ ᒣᑕᐍᐏᐣ, ᓀᐓ ᑮᓯᑳᐤ ᑲᐯ ᐁ ᐱᒥ ᒣᑕᐍᒋᐠ ᐁᑯᓯ ᑕ ᐑᒋᐦᐋᒋᐠ ᐆᐦᐃ ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐘ ᑕ ᓇᓈᑕᐍᐦᐅᔨᐟ᙮

He woke up in a cave like place. He could hear music but he could not stay awake long and he went back into unconsciousness. He did this for 2 days, drifting in and out of consciousness and still hearing music each time he was awake. Meanwhile the little people took care of him. Finally on the third day he was able to stay awake a little longer. He could now sit up and see what he was hearing. He could see the little people playing some kind of game and he watched until he learned what they were doing. These little people played this game for 4 days straight in order to help this Cree man to heal.

Handgames vocabulary

  • cikahkwêwin (stick game)
  • macânês (game piece which is not worth the play)
  • mêtawêwin (game, contest, sport; dialogue)
  • kâcikan (bead used in hide and guess game)nêhiyawêwin : itwêwina / Cree : Words
  • kâtikan (bead used in hide and guess game)
  • cikahkwân (gambling toy shaped like a knife-blade; stick in woman’s stick game)
  • pakêsêwin, pakîsîwin, from pakêsêw (gamble with dice (Indian game))
  • ê-kâcikêhk, from kâcikâtêw (be hidden)
  • miscikosa sticks
  • oskana bones
  • ahkiskamikêw  ‘kick stick’, from tahkiskam (Verb, VTI) s/he kicks s.t.
  • wâpanacâhkwêw (be out all night; play games till early morning)

Finally, here’s a  link from SICC that describes the game as anthropologist David Mandelbaum saw it in 1934. 
http://www.sicc.sk.ca/archive/heritage/ethnography/cree/recreation/handgame.html

About Arden Ogg

Arden Ogg is Director of the Cree Literacy Network, launched in 2010 with the goal of creating Cree language literacy materials suitable for use by learners of all ages.
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