Handgame, also known as stickgame, is a Native American guessing game.
Stickgame is played with a pair of bones, one white and one black or striped; and ten “point sticks,” which are used as counters. The two teams, one “defending” and one “guessing,” sit opposite one another; two members of the “defending” team take the bones and hide them under their hands while the others sing, drum, and attempt to distract the “guessing” team. The leader of the “guessing” team then must guess which defender is holding each of the two bones; for each incorrect guess, his team must turn over one stick to the defenders. Once the bones have been located, the teams reverse roles, and the game continues in this manner until one team holds all the sticks.
Handgame apparently originated with the Northern Paiute and Western Shoshone tribes of the Great Basin. Historical documentation states that games were once played for land use and female companions, and later on for horses and cattle. Today, handgame is played during traditional gatherings, powwows, and tribal celebrations. More recent versions of handgame played by tribes in the Northwest added an eleventh stick, or “kickstick”; this variation was promulgated by the Paiute medicine man Wovoka when he traveled to the Northwest to teach the Ghost Dance. Handgame bones and point sticks have been identified in ancient anthropological digs. Handgame continues to spread amongst Native American tribes; the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act classified it as Class I gaming, leaving its regulation to individual tribes.
- Stewart Culin, Games of the North American Indian. 1907; reprint, New York: Dover Publications, 1975.
- Frances Densmore, Music of the Teton Sioux. Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 61. Washington, D.C.: 1918.
- “Numaga Days celebrates games.” Geralda Miller, Reno Gazette-Journal. September 2, 2004.