SNOW SNAKES


Snow snakes was a winter game in which "snakes" were thrown so as to glide across the snow crust or ice. It was designed primarily as a children's game, but was occasionally played by the adults in intertribal competitions.

The snakes were made of hickory and great care was taken in their manufacture. They were from 5 to 7 feet in length, and about 1/4" in thickness. They gradually tapered from about 1" in diameter at the head to about 1/2" at the tail. The length of body was grooved, or hollowed out. The head was round, turned up slightly, and weighted with lead. The weight aided in the distance the snake traveled when thrown.

The snake was held by placing the index finger on the foot and supporting the body with the remaining fingers and thumb. It was then thrown so as to make the snake glide across the snow crust or ice with great speed.

The players were limited and select, usually not more than 6 to a team. A playing area with a starting point and the direction of travel of the snakes was chosen. All players would throw their snakes in turn. The snake which ran the greatest distance was awarded 1 point for the team to which it belonged. Sometimes, other points were awarded to the same team if a 2nd or 3rd snake was found to be ahead of all snakes of the other team. A point was given for each snake which outdistanced all of the opponent's snakes. The number of points required to win the game was agreed upon prior to the game, but was normally between 7 and 10.

Nearly all northern nations played this game although the style of the snakes varied somewhat from nation to nation. Some of the plains nations, such as the Lakota, used bone rather than wood to make their snakes. The Kiowa snake consisted of a piece of rib bone (4 1/2 inches long) having the upper concave surface marked with small holes. Two wooden pegs, decorated with feathers, were inserted into one end of the bone. The snake was 17 inches long total.

The snake illustrated and described here is the style used by the Lėnape and Haudenosaunee. The origins of the game are unclear, but it is most likely Lėnape. I am ashamed to admit that I do not know the Lėnape name for this game, but the Haudenosaunee name is Gawasa.

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