Choctaw Stickball



Choctaw StickballStickball has been a part of Choctaw life for hundreds of years. Opposing teams use handcrafted sticks or kabocca, and a woven leather ball, or towa. Each team tries to advance the ball down the field to the other team’s goalpost using only their sticks, never touching or throwing the ball with their hands. Points are scored when a player hits the opposing team’s goalpost with the ball.

The earliest historical reference to Choctaw stickball was a Jesuit priest’s account of a stickball game around 1729. During that period, the Choctaws lived in towns and villages scattered across the area that is now southern Mississippi. When disputes arouse between these communities, stickball provided a peaceful way to settle the issue. These games were hard-fought contests that cold involve as few as twenty or as many as 300 players.

Choctaw Stickball2 In his book The Mississippi Choctaws at Play: The Serious Side of Leisure, anthropologist Kendall Blanchard describes what an 18th century game might of looked like:

“The nature of the playing field was never strictly defined. The only boundaries were the two goalposts at either end of the playing area and these could be anywhere from 100 feet to five miles apart, as was the case in one game in the 19th century…”There were no boundaries on the sides of the playing field, and the game’s action simply followed the ball. Many times spectators were rousted from comfortable vantage points as the fleet-footed, fast-swinging…athletes scrambled after a far-flung pass…

“The rules, like the layout of the playing field, were ambiguous and limited to only three or four stipulations. Of primary importance was the restriction that no player was to touch the ball with his hands, using instead only his sticks to carry and throw the small ball. At no time were spectators allowed to interfere with the process. If they did, a penalty was assessed against their team…

“While players could tackle, block, or use any reasonable method to interfere with the other team’s movement of the ball, there were implicit limits to acceptable violence.”

Mississippi Choctaws continue to play stickball. When the first Choctaw Fair was held in 1949, stickball was an important event, but it involved only a handful of teams. Today, anywhere from 8 to 10 teams meet during the fair in a single-elimination tournament. The championship game closes out the fair, with the fans filling the Choctaw Central High School football stadium to cheer their teams on.

Choctaw Stickball3Modern stickball has a few more rules than tis historical predecessor. These are printed and distributed to all players before the fair begins. The game is played in four fifteen-minute quarters. Players still score points by hitting a post which is set up in the middle of the football goal post. They still advance the ball without touching it, using their kabocca. The appearance of the players is different, too. For most of the 20th century, players wore handmade uniforms consisting of pants hemmed just below the knee and open-necked, pullover shirts. These were made in the community colors and decorated with the diamond patterns found on traditional clothing. In the late 1970’s, there uniform gave way to gym shorts, but many players now wear headbands with the diamond design in community colors.

Stickball, as it is played today, remains a uniquely Choctaw sport and a symbol of tribal identity. So that boys will have a chance to develop their skills there are two age divisions for young people’s teams. Occasionally, women’s teams will take the field in exhibition matches.

The resurgence of interest in stickball has kept several Choctaw craftsmen busy. The kabocca and towa used by the players have to be handmade. The kabocca are carved from hickory and bent at one end to shape the cup of the stick. then leather or deer hide thongs are tied to make the pocket in which the players catch and carry the ball. The towa is made from cloth tightly wrapped around a small stone or piece of wood. Once it is wrapped to the desired size, the maker weaves a leather thong over the cloth.

Information taken from:
Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians Website
http://www.choctaw.org/culture/stickball.htm

A fast and furious game of stickball
Photo:© Choctaw Community News
More on Indian Stickball
http://www.cradleboard.org/cnat/profiles/choctaw.htm
Did you know that Indian stickball is an official part of the Mississippi State Games? Stickball is a hard game to play; it’s something like lacrosse with no protective gear. The towa and kabocca, stickball equipment, have to be handmade, and the game has more rules today than it did long ago. Choctaw kids also play many other sports and have a basketball and soccer camp.
Getting the feel of the kabocca
Getting the feel of the kabocca
Photo:© Choctaw Community News

More facts about Choctaws:

Eastern Mississippi is home to the Mississippi Choctaws. In the 1800s the United States government forced many Choctaws to move to Oklahoma, along with other tribes. The United States wanted Choctaw land for white settlers. At one time the Choctaws lived in Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana, too.

Have you heard of the Code Talkers? Choctaw was one of the first Indian languages used in World War I to send secret messages for the U.S. Army. The enemy never figured it out, and the Choctaw soldiers were honored for their contribution. Choctaw language is still very important to the Choctaw people, who work hard to protect it from extinction.

There are language programs in schools, and language classes are part of summer camps. Besides learning Choctaw, students learn how to design Web pages. Many kids like using the digital camera and image-editing software the best. Students put lots of information about Choctaws on the Web, including the Choctaw Fair.

The Choctaw Fair is a weeklong event held every July. There are pageants, cultural exhibits, Choctaw social dancers from each community, rides, entertainers, and tons of visitors from all over. You can have traditional food like holhponi, or fresh hominy. Visitors can see Choctaw artists make their famous swampcane baskets in the museum, or attend the Stickball World Series.

Reservations/Communities: one reservation each in
Louisiana & Mississippi; one community in Oklahoma
Total population: 158,774
Some people to learn about:
Owanah Anderson [1926– ], Oklahoma Episcopal Church leader, women’s rights activist
Philip Martin [1926– ], Mississippi tribal leader
Phil Lucas [contemporary], Oklahoma film producer, director
Neighbors:
Poarch Band of Creeks, Chitimachas, Tunica-Biloxis

Web links:
www.choctaw.org
www.choctawnation.com

NOTE FROM CHERYL: I have some of my own stickball pictures I will try to post at a later date. I have watched the Mississippi Choctaws play stickball… The roughness/toughness of NFL Football is NOTHING compared to Indian stickball. They carry players off massively bleeding, on stretchers. It’s the most intensive amateur athletics I’ve ever seen in my life. I wonder if Tommie Harris would be tough enough to hang with some of our Choctaw boys? Ha! Oh… he probably could – for a minute or two anyway!

YouTube – real choctaw stickball

THE OLDEST INDIAN SPORT IN AMERICA.

YOU THINK FOOTBALL AND RUGBY IS TOUGH? CHECK THIS OUT!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7NoDil-c0E

The game of stickball has been played by the Choctaw in Mississippi for 400 years and at one time was used in place of war to settle disputes between Native American groups. The modern sport lacrosse is a direct descendant of stickball. The game is extremely fast-paced and physical, but simple. The only two rules are that players can’t touch the ball with their hands and can only tackle someone in possession of the ball (body checks are legal anytime). The field consists of a pole at either end and the purpose of the game is to hit the opponents’ pole with a ball comparable to a hackey sack. In the process, players can receive some nasty wounds from rough play and being hit by the kabocca.

Many times, Choctaw stickball teams travel to festivals for competitions, and they are a tough opponent. The Choctaw often will try to trick their opponents, using different strategies and techniques each time they play. But when the Choctaw play on the reservation, they don’t hold back! To the Choctaw, it’s not just a sport, it’s part of their identity and they don’t like to lose. They’ve been playing it since they could walk and every game is an intense game. THEY TAKE THEIR STICKBALL SERIOUS, FOLKS!

You’ll have to check out the Moundville Native American Festival in Alabama held every fall, and the festival at the Choctaw reservation in Mississippi held in the spring. It would be an experience you would never forget!
Moundville Native American Festival
http://www.ua.edu/features/moundville.html
Muscogee (Creek) Indians demonstrate stomp dancings @ Moundville Festival
http://www.ua.edu/features/moundville.html
Native American performing artists, craftspeople, and musicians entertain and educate visitors each October at the Moundville Native American Festival. This year’s festival is October 4-7.Attracts 16,000 visitors annually to the park, located 13 miles south of Tuscaloosa off state Highway 69.
County JuneFest Replaces Dawg Days Festival
Choctaw County, MS
Posted by roboblogger Feb 22, 2008
Due to the dawg days of summer heat Choctaw County
will host a new festival, JuneFest, held on June 6-7. JuneFest
will replace the traditional Dawg Days of Summer festival
in hopes of attracting larger crowds …
http://www.topix.com/county/choctaw-ms/2008/02/county-junefest-replaces-dawg-days-festival
Great Stickball pics & articles:
http://jmc.ou.edu/oidj/2005/Baxter/holmes_story.pdf
Published in: on March 30, 2008 at 6:33 am  Comments (4)  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: http://bymyart.wordpress.com/2008/03/30/choctaw-stickball/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. the best game ever i ever seen – way to go, choctaw!

    i wonder if other people play too?

  2. I think you should have pictures of old indians playing stickball instead of pictures today!!!

    (From Cheryl): Hope, Native Americans have a “living heritage” and stickball is a part of that heritage. It is a heritage rooted in tradition, but ever evolving. This was meant to introduce folks (who have not been exposed to stickball) to the sport. It was not meant to be a complete history of the sport. But so glad you are familiar with the sport and it’s long-held significance in Native American history. Thank you for visiting the site and taking time to comment.

  3. Hi Cheryl, I like your page very much and was wondering if I could use an excerpt or two in my facebook page. I would also like to add your website to my list of references. I think it would be a great addition to my page.

    I’ll await your reply. Thanks so much.

    T.

  4. Somewhere on my fathers side we have Choctaw i am so happy to see this! i know I’m only like 1/20th or something like that but i might as well be half for how proud and connected i feel, someday i would love to come back to Mississippi and see the Choctaw


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: