VALUING NATIVE FIBERS

Stuart Murdock is a Ute Indian who somehow ended up living in Redmond, OR. He is a prolific flintknapper who can be seen every October at the Wanapum archaeology days near Beverly, WA. His work is exquisite like the meticulous work of ancestors, so fine and painstaking, and he is a natural teacher, generous with his teachings. His wife Rose said when Stuart joined a pine needle weaving group just for something to do, his work quickly surpassed the women’s weaving. He made a bow with a string of stinging nettle cordage for the Fort Walla Walla Museum, and everyone was oohing and aahing over the string. Every fall he goes to Utah to hunt elk. He returns with Utah greasewood and uses it to fashion wooden display stands for his finished knives.
Now Stuart has donated some fine pieces to Tamástslikt—two ring-and-pin games and a timeball, pictured. We let Stuart know that these items were desired for the kids’ exhibit we’re working on, and sure enough he produced them and donated them in a few months’ time. He added not only glass beads to the timeball but also some big handmade wampum shell beads, very beautiful. We helped find fish vertebrae, also donated from tribal member, Clifford Shippentower. Qeciyéew’yew, thank you.
It was women who kept the timeball or ítitamat to count time on a string calendar, counting days and noting events with a mnemonic marker such as a bead. Remarkably, the woman could unwind the timeball and recount events and when they happened. The cordage was processed from dogbane or Indian hemp—taxwís (sounds like taghúus). Our teacher Twáway used to help us process taxwís, and she too was a perfectionist in her work. Someone would finish picking all the bark debris from the fiber, and Twáway would take the hank and clean it all over again. Or we’d be panting with the summer heat, and Twaway took no notice, she just kept working. She was younger then, only in her 70’s. One thing that didn’t seem to exist for our elders was leisure time because time’s a-wasting.
Regarding leisure time, the Bureau of Ethnology documented four games c. 1900 attributed to the Umatilla Indian Reservation—hand game, hoop (“pasa-pow-i-low-wikes” or “sow-lai-kai-kas”) and pole (“wai-hutz” or “tuk-tai-pow-ma”), ring and pin, and shinny (“ball called tkaiput, bat called tkaila”). Author Stewart Culin collected the ring and pin game called “pactslewitas” on the Umatilla Reservation in 1900. His book, Games of the North American Indian, vol. 2, reads, “The pin is held in the fingers and the bones are swung in the air. Catching the single bone counts 1; the single bone and the others, 2. The game is 100.” There are endless variations of this game among many other Tribes. Instead of fish vertebrae, some tribes used deer ankle bones. The Klamath called it “punching out the moon,” suggesting that winning this game could shorten the winter months and bring on the springtime. Arapaho and Cheyenne called it the “love game”. Only the Zuni ascribed a phallic meaning to the ring and pin game.

Games and Timeball

Taxwis

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