WEIO Games
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Eskimo-Indian Games

Games - Preparation for Survival

 The games played in the villages of the north showcase the skills required for survival. They took agility, endurance, skill, and strength. It was also a way to teach their children that they had to be tough to make it on their own, not in just in one area, but in all, because no part of the body was left untested. 

When families or villages gathered there were feasts, dances, and games. Often, a messenger was sent to neighboring villages to extend a formal invitation. Today, the games are played during the Fourth of July as well as the Christmas holidays.

You are invited!

If you miss seeing the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics in July (during Golden Days)  you can still get a taste by enjoying "Northern Inua" at the University of Alaska Museum.

"To better appreciate the background of these games, envision yourself in a community village hut three hundred years ago with the temperature outside at 60 degrees below zero, and everybody in attendance celebrating a successful seal hunt. While the young men are demonstrating their athletic prowess and strength, the umialiks, or whaling captains, are on the perimeter of the hut looking with great interest at the young adults - one or more of these young men would be incorporated into their whaling and hunting crews - the fastest, the strongest, the one showing great balance and endurance to pain would be the top pick."

This is a game of balance. The athlete sits on the floor below a target with one hand grasping the opposite foot. With the remaining free hand planted on the floor, the athlete springs up and attempts to kick the target with the free foot. After kicking the target, the athlete must show balance upon landing  at the original position before kicking. The objective is height.

Two athletes face each other so that their legs are positioned where one leg crosses over the opposite leg of their competitor. They then lock arms at the elbows, fists down, and begin pulling the other contestant towards him/her. Two out of three attempts will declare a winner. After each attempt, the players switch arms and legs. Brute strength is important when bringing the quarry out of the hole in the ice.

 Here the contestant lies down on the floor, face down, with arms straight out in an "iron cross" position. Three "spotters" position themselves; one at the feet holding the ankles, while the other two grab each wrist. The participant tightens all  muscles, and the three "spotters" lift the body so that the body is approximately one foot above the ground. They begin walking at the speed dictated by a floor official. When the body or arms begin to sag, the participant "drops the bomb." Going the furthest is the objective. 

In this event, two people sitting facing each other with twine looped around each other's ear - right ear to right ear, left to left. The two begin a "tug-of-war" to see who the winner is. Best two out of three wins the match. There are times when the loop will slip off one opponent's ear - that person is the loser of that round. Each participant alternate each round using alternate ears. The victor is demonstrating the ability to withstand pain, a trait sometimes needed to survive the harsh realities of the North.

The weights used in this event are 16 one pound lead ingots, which are threaded on twine. The contestant must loop the twine around one ear and by lifting straight up, without using the cheek, pack the "weight" and go for distance. Before lead weights were used, sacks like twenty-five pounds of flour were used. Distances of over 2,000 feet are not unusual.

In this event, two athletes face each other sitting on the ground with their feet pressed together and knees bent. A stick one-inch in diameter is placed between them where their feet meet. Each athlete grabs the stick, positioning their hands so that one person's hands are on the inside, and the other's hands are on the outside. All hands must be touching. Using the legs, arms, back, and a sure grip, the contestants then attempt to pull the stick away from their opponent. The winner is that person who is either able to pull the opponent over, or who can pull the stick out of the opponent's hands, on two out of three attempts. Each round, the athletes will alternate positioning of their hands. Strength is important when bringing a seal up from the hole in the ice.

After a successful hunt, the game has to be packed for long distances. This is true also of packing wood or ice. The "four man carry" not only tests the ability of the participant to carry heavy loads, but it also tests the "weight" - the volunteers "draped" over the participant during the event. The objective is distance.

This game is a test of grip. The equipment for this game is a stick tapered at both ends. The stick is about a foot long and one and one-half inches in diameter in the middle. Grease is applied to the stick and the competitors then grab the stick and attempt to pull it away from each other. They must pull straight back without jerking or twisting. Best two out of three is the winner of the match, each round using a different hand. This primarily Indian game was used to strengthen the hands for grabbing fish out of the fish wheel.

In this event, the contestant kneels on the floor at a given line and must have feet flat on the floor with the bottoms up. From this position, the athlete then jumps as far forward as possible, lands on his/her feet, and keeping balance. He or she is allowed to swing arms back and forth to gain momentum for the leap forward. This event relates to the quickness and balance one has to have when out on the moving ice during break up.

This is a game to test the participant's strength and endurance to pain. The object is to see how far one can go in a "push-up" position, with elbows bent and knuckles down. The only parts of the body allowed to touch the floor are knuckles and toes. From this position, the participant "hops" forward as far as possible, keeping the back straight and elbows bent. This games originally was played on the floor of a traditional community center or hut, or outside on the ground.

  Several walrus skins are used for this event. The skin has holes on the edges so that rope can be looped through all the way around and used for handle grips. One person gets in the middle of the skin and stands there while being tossed. With a good coordinated effort on behalf of the "pullers:, the person being tossed can get as high as thirty feet in the air and land on his/her feet without falling down. 

This is quite similar to a trampoline, with the only difference being that people are the springs and they can move to catch an errant jumper. The Nalakatuk is done in the whaling communities in the spring if there has been a successful whaling season. It is been part of the whaling feast activity as long as people can remember. 

There are ideas to explain why this sport is being done. 
bulletFor the simple exhilaration it provides
bulletFor spotting game over the horizon

When determining a winner,  judges look at balance, height, movements in the air (you can sometimes see jumpers dancing or running in place)  and all- around form and grace Sometimes, flips and somersaults are done to the delight of the pullers and spectators. During Christmas, jumpers used to throw candy and other goodies from their height above the children. 

The high kick event requires the athlete to jump off the floor using both feet, kick a suspended object with one foot, and land on the floor using that same foot demonstrating balance to the floor officials. Distances the height of a basketball's net is not uncommon. It is said that when a messenger from a hunting or whaling crew is within visual distance of the villagers, he will kick high into the air, giving a message that a whale has been shot, or the caribou are running near. The two-foot high kick means a different but similar message. The high kicks are considered the premier events of the WEIO.

This game requires the athlete to balance on his/her hands with at least one elbow tucked under the lower abdominal area. The rest of the body is parallel to the floor. The participant will then use one hand to reach up and touch the suspended target. Upon doing this, the participant must get that hand back to the floor before any other part of his/her body touches the floor while demonstrating his/her balance to the floor officials. This is a game demonstrating balance, athletic prowess, and strength. Height is the objective.

This game is where the player stands at a given line and jumps forward attempting to kick a stick (one-inch in diameter) backwards with the toes of both feet remaining together. The contestant must land forward of the mark where the stick was. When all players accomplish this, the stick is moved another two inches forward for each round until a winner is determined. Each player is allowed three attempts at each distance in case of misses. This is another game of athletic prowess and balance. Balance is needed while negotiating the rotten ice during breakup.

This event is similar to the one-foot high kick with the difference being the athlete jumps off the floor using both feet, hits the suspended target with both feet together, and maintains balance upon reaching the floor. When landing both feet must touch the floor at the same time. Years ago, in the coastal whaling villages, in order for the village to know that a whale has been taken, a runner would run back to the village and when within sight of the village, the messenger would jump and kick both feet into the air while running. In that manner, the people of the village would know to prepare themselves to help in "beaching" the whale.


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