Painting by Shaun Peterson, 2000
Tulalip/Puyallup, born 1975
Wood, hide, paint
Loan from Jack and Jane Curtright, T2004.70.3
Basketry-covered stick rattle
Wood, cedar bark, beargrass
Loan from Jack and Jane Curtright, T2004.70.2
Slehal gambling set
Salish, early 20th century
Bone, wood, paint
Loan from Jack and Jane Curtright, T2004.1
Sung by Bruce Miller
Recorded by Katie Jennings, 2004
Family Slehal song
Sung by Martin Sampson
Recorded by Leon Metcalf, 1952
Family Gambling song
Sung by Martin Sampson
Recorded by Leon Metcalf, 1952
Hand drum, basketry covered rattle stick, gambling pieces (2 “bones” and 16 counter sticks, 1 “kick stick”)
Lehal or (sle hal in Chinook jargon) are other names for an exciting and competitive guessing or gambling game played by Native Americans throughout the west. It is a very social activity and teams travel for distances to compete. The popular term “bone game” refers to two pairs of these cylinders that are used, carved from animal bone. One of each pair is undecorated and the other has circular or line designs carved and painted black around the circumference of the bone cylinder. Ten painted wood counting sticks and one “kick stick” help to keep score.
There are two teams made up of as many as a dozen players who kneel or sit facing each other in parallel lines. Two players on one team each handle a pair of bones, secreting them in their closed palm, and changing their positions with hands behind their backs—all done with a background accompaniment of exuberant singing, drumming, and other percussion made by striking batons on a wood plank, or by shaking rattles. One player on the opposing team tries to guess the positions of the two plain bones in the opposing player’s hands. Each correct guess wins a pair of bones for the guessing team; each miss loses a counter stick. When the guesser has won both pairs, his team takes over and the other side guesses. When all counters are on one side the game is over. Often the players don’t sleep much and can experience a trance-like state while singing, drumming and playing the game.
Bone Game at the Swinomish Smokehouse,
January 22, 1946
Suquamish Game Pieces Made from
Decorated Deer Bone,
Bone game songs are very lively, fast paced and sung with full voices. The players hiding the bones often gesture expressively in time with the music. The combination of singing and percussion help to focus the concentration and power of the bone-holders, while that of the opponents serves to bring them lucky guesses and distract their opponents. In earlier times, it was usually men who competed but nowadays women and youth participate, too.
Indians Gambling on a
Photograph by C.E. King
Song is an integral part of the “bone game” as well as other social and religious events. Songs, like other forms of oral deliveries, are considered part of a family’s treasured possessions and are one aspect of huchooseda, or Native encyclopedic cultural knowledge. There are many types of songs, depending on the intention and action involved. There are songs that accompany social events, including welcome songs, prayer songs, table songs, closing songs and a variety of social songs where everyone can join in. Love songs and lullabies, with their affectionate words and soothing melodies, communicated personal feelings, and could be improvised and embellished.
An individual or group may have songs that are sung while working or traveling, such as canoe paddling songs, cedar work songs, and hunting songs, fishing songs and berry-picking songs. One can imagine how the words or sounds can serve to impart strength, determination, focus on the task at hand, and respect for the natural world and spirits within.
During the serious activities of Winter Spirit dances, personal songs are sung by dancers who are accompanied by drummers and family members who honor the dancer by singing with him or her. Another type of personal song used in rituals to heal and purify those in need would be the property of a ritualist, or nature doctor. Spiritual songs, of which these are both examples, are never used outside of strictly prescribed parameters and would never be borrowed or appropriated by anyone else. Such categories of songs are considered very powerful and, thus, surrounded by restrictions. For this reason, these types of songs do not appear in the museum display, even though examples were recorded by anthropologists beginning in the 1890s when a method of recording sounds on wax cylinders was invented. Because these early cylinders only held 2-3 minutes of recorded material, they were used initially for song recording. (Stories tended to be longer and could be transcribed manually using orthographies that principally made use of English alphabet approximations of the Native language sounds plus specially developed characters.
According to Dr. Laurel
Sercombe, Ethnomusicology Archivist at the
Students will explore the role of song in the Coast Salish region:
Questions to discuss:
Suppose that your culture doesn’t have a written language and that everything you needed to learn as a young person was communicated by elders and leaders through stories, speeches and songs, and by quietly watching an auntie make a basket, or an uncle repair a fish net. What might be some of the difficulties of this system; and what might be some of the strengths of this type of teaching and learning?
Listen to a variety of songs. Sing together as a class. Have the boys sing alone. Have the girls sing alone. Sing one more time together. Discuss how song can foster a sense of community.
Listen to the songs and have the students keep time with sticks or hand clapping. Count the beats.
Imagine having your own song that expresses you as a unique individual. What would it be like? Would the tempo of your song be fast or slow, the singing loud or soft? Would your song contain sounds as well as words? Would you use a rattle or drum to accompany your song? Would you want the meaning of the song to be known only by you, or would you want to share the message with others?
Close your eyes and quietly listen to the songs on the CD. Can you hear different emotions or feelings expressed in the songs, even if you don’t know what the words mean? Using watercolors, draw an expression of what you feel while listening to the music. (Watercolors allow for fluidity of expression)
Chinook jargon—a trade
language used up and down the
Bone game—a popular game practiced by Natives across the Western states using carved animal bones as gaming pieces.
Huchooseda—Puget Sound Salish language word for the encyclopedic knowledge that comprise the ancestral teachings—including songs, stories, oratory and works of art.
Orthographies—methods of representing the sounds of a language by written or printed symbols.
Cameron, Anne. Orca’s Song.
Hilbert, Vi taqwsheblu.
Ways of the Lushootseed People: Ceremonies and Traditions of
Hirschi, Ron. Seya’s Song.
Maranda, Lynn. Coast Salish Gambling Games.
Roberts, Helen and Herman
Haeberlin. Some Songs of the
Smyth, Willie and Esmé
Ryan. Spirit of the First People -
Native American Music Traditions of
Stuart, Wendy. Gambling Music of the Coast Salish
American Indian Voices, presents Johnny Moses. Produced by Paul D.G. Eubanks for Ten Wolves, 2002
Kwiat Syaya (Sacred Friendships), Vol. I, featuring Vi taqwsheblu Hilbert telling stories, and including ancestral songs. Produced by Paul D.G. Eubanks for Ten Wolves, 2000.
Kwiat Syaya (Sacred Friendships), Vol. II, featuring Vi taqwsheblu Hilbert sharing
stories and songs from the First People of the
Music of the American Indian, Northwest (
Our Living Ancestors, featuring stories by Vi taqwsheblu Hilbert and Bruce subiyay Miller. Produced by Paul D.G. Eubanks for Ten WIlves, 2003.
Songs from the Tulalip Canoe Family. Produced by the Tulalip Canoe Family, Tulalip, WA., 2002.
When the Humans Thought They Were People, featuring songs and stories of Salish people, as told by Vi taqwseblu Hilbert and Johnny xwistimani Moses. Produced by Paul D.G. Eubanks for Ten Wolves, 2002.
Coyote and Rock and Other Lushootseed Stories – The
Parabola Storytime Series. Told by Vi Hilbert.
Traditions of the Heart. Produced by Katie Jennings for KCTS,
Leon Metcalf Collection,
Ten Wolves offers recordings of music and stories from the Native people of the