Alaska Native Collections – Sharing Knowledge

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Gambling sticks

sgáal cháay “sticks for gambling game”
Language: Haida

We have a story about two Haida chiefs who were gambling. One of them won everything; all the other one had left was an abalone shell around his neck…The one who lost found out that the opposite chief was making gambling sticks with pictures of him on them, upside down.

—Delores Churchill, 2005

Stick gambling, often for very high stakes, was a fast-paced contest between two men or as many as a dozen players on each side. Each man owned several sets of thirty to seventy polished sticks and switched them during play to better his luck. Most pieces had carved or painted designs, but several called jĭl (bait) were plain. The rules varied, but in basic play the dealer shuffled two or three handfuls of the sticks, including one jĭl, beneath a mound of shredded bark; his opponent then guessed which pile held the bait.

Culture: Haida
Region: Long Island, Southeast Alaska
Village: Howkan
Object Category: Toys, games
Dimensions: Length bag 32cm, stick 12.4cm
Accession Date: 1884
Source: J. Loomis Gould (donor)
Museum: National Museum of Natural History
Museum ID Number: E073552