Native American Singing Games

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Native Americans often integrate dances, games and songs.

Many North American aboriginal cultures have integrated dances, games and singing together. Depending on the festival or occasion, these singing games can take on many forms. They can be accompanied by drummers and dancers or be used to tell stories and entertain. Some singing games are only for children but many are enjoyed by participants of all ages.

  1. Games and the Environment

    • Games that reflect the environment center on a natural phenomenon like weather. The game Rain, played by people of the Pacific Northwest and other humid areas, involves singing and dancing that mimics the weather before and during a rainstorm. Many variations are possible, including imitating the sound of rain -- by hitting all fingers of each hand against one other -- and integrating singing or dancing, but not both.

    Games of Chance

    • Many Native American games involve chance. For instance, the Hand Game is played with a drum, sticks and a wooden bead or bone about 2 inches long. People separate into two rows on logs facing each other. One side passes the bead from one person to the next -- while others in the same side bluff and mimic the action with several others. The opposing side’s members drum along with a song and try to guess who actually has the bead. More than 81 Native American tribes played variations of this game.


    • Annual pow-wows and seasonal festivals often include song and dance competitions that feature experienced drummers, singers and traditionally costumed dancers. The varieties of formal and informal occasions for these competitions involve traditional and formal dances for men and women. Instruments are almost exclusively drums that are carefully crafted and chosen to aid dancers and singers who compete.

    Games of Legend

    • Many songs and the games that accompanied them included the myths and legends of aboriginal gods and spirits. Sometimes, games of the gods became songs and legends themselves. The animal gods purportedly appreciated The Ball Game, which was played by many North American natives, and a tale is sung of the game that pitted birds and land animals against each other. The game explains the bat's origin, but also tells a lesson about how the kind birds won over the scornful four-legged creatures.

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