Native American Technology and Art

Ring & Pin Game


Game image compliments
of Waaban Aki Crafting

The ring and pin game has ancient Native American roots. Nearly Every Native nation across North America has its particular version which uses unique materials from the natural environment for the ring and pin. In all varieties of this game, a ring or other target is fastened to a cord. The target is thrown into the air and must be speared by the pin attached to the other end of the cord. Simple targets are carved rings of bone or hide, strings of toe bones or fish vertebra, perforated holed skulls, dried squash rinds, or bundles of twigs or hair. The pins were carved from long bones or antler in older times, while metal pins have sometimes been used since contact with Europeans. A leather or fur counterweight or loops of beads were sometimes attached below the target. The game was often played for women's and children's amusement and for stakes.

Among the Cheyenne of Oklahoma and the Penobscot of Maine, this game is sometimes referred to as a 'love game', a pastime for young men and women, as it serves as an excuse for introduction between two people, in which a woman could show her approval of a man by accepting to play the game with him, and by refusing to play the game if she is not interested in the other person. Players usually number two. Each party gets two tries to impale the ring the greatest number of times, after which it must be passed to the next player. In a Penobscot version using six deer toe (phalanx) bones, each player gets ten tosses, and the total number of bones speared by each player is compared. However, the counts can be extremely varied in other versions of the game. The bones usually count progressively from the one nearest the pin. The total count of the game also varies from 2 to 4, 50, or 100 (the most common number), up to 2000.

This version of the of the ring and pin is called an "ecagoo" by Athapaskan Natives of the west coast. The game consists of three small deer toe bones fashioned into hollow cones through which a slender piece of twisted sinew thread is passed. They are hollowed at the base so that they fit into each other. The needle of bone is attached to the end of the thread which is just long enough to admit the point of the needle into the base of the first cone, where they are crowded into each other. The object to be attained is to pass the needle through the center o the cones or a slit in the leather at the top as the "ecagoo" falls. In gambling, a score is kept of the points made. The catching of the pin in the slits scores 1, on the first cone: 5. In the first and second: 10, in all three: 15, and in the second and third: 20.

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