Native American Technology and Art

Little Pines Game

Image adapted from "How Indians Use Wild Plants", Densmore:1974
Natives of the Eastern Forest traditionally make dancing dolls from varieties of evergreen trees such as Norway Pine and White Pine. Early in the 1900's, Frances Densmore describes these dolls, made by Ojibway (Chippewa) people of the Great Lakes region, from a tuft of pine needles cut squarely across the end. By trimming a layer of needles about halfway up, a skirt, arms and perhaps a shawl could be suggested. A bit of wood was left at the top of the sprig of needles creating the doll's head. These little figures were placed on a long thin piece of wood, or on a tray, which was gently bounced. This agitating motion makes the dolls jump and skip, sometimes moving back and forth together, suggesting a dance.
The effect was quite realistic if the person manipulating the board was practiced. The northeastern Penobscot have a similar traditional game called 'little pines', a game chiefly for women, that was described by Frank Speck in the 1940's. The game used anywhere from 6 to 10 dolls made from white pine tips. The woman sings as she jostles the game board, and the pine sprigs dance and eventually topple. If a pine dancer manages to right itself, then the onlookers exclaim "She's come back to life!"; and "She's glad to wake up again!". The last pine needle dancer to fall from the board is praised by the onlookers for her endurance and dancing skill. The dancers and board are then passed to another to play.

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