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Hand Game

When I was a child I wondered why some people could play Hand Game better than others.  It had always seemed simple enough to my childhood mind that everyone playing the game should be equally skilled at pointing the Guessing Stick at either the right hand or the left hand, you should get it right at least half of the time.

For those who are not familiar with the game Indians call Hand Game, let me explain. Also, I should note that not all tribes play Hand Game the way Osages play it.

To begin, let me say a Hand Game happens when Indians have a need to celebrate something. That could be a birthday, or a graduation, or the returning of a military person, returning from or entering service to our country. In other words, when Indians have a need to honor someone and want to do it by giving gifts, including the gift of money.

Friends and relatives are invited to attend. There are both Men and Women involved, and the Men players can hold their own with the Women. It just seems to me there are normally more Osage Women players than there are Osage Men Hand Game players.

There are two sides competing for the win. These are normally held in a large room, and people are seated. Sitting at a table are the two score keepers. Half of the people are on one team and the other half are on the other team.                           

The event is set with a background beat of a drum, and that always adds a great deal to any event. 

The basic thought behind the game is a simple guess of which hand one person is holding a small article. The article being held is normally a small piece of beadwork, about an inch long. The guess of which hand holds the button is a simple pointing of the Stick at the left or right hand.

The score is kept by laying ten beautiful sticks on a Score Keepers Table. Five sticks in one bunch and five sticks in another bunch. When one team scores a point by avoiding being guessed which hand holds the button, one of the opposing team’s sticks is moved to the other side. When all of the sticks are on one side or the other, that game is over. 

I have mental images of those Older Women with their solemn expressions. In my memory those Ladies are wrapped in beautiful fringed shawls and they are holding a Guessing Stick.  The expressions on their faces will tell you nothing of what they might be thinking.  Certainly, those expressions will tell you nothing of which hand you should point the stick at, the right hand or the left.   

It has been several years since I thought that all Hand Game players are created equal. I now know that, more than likely, there is a great deal of insight into human nature that makes a Great Hand Game Guesser.

I should also point out that, over the years, I have talked to members of several Tribes, and what I learned is that every Tribe has a little different way of playing Hand Game. The truth is there are some Indians who are very good at fooling other people. There are also those individuals who are very good at reading the expressions of others. My childhood mind also understood that those same Indians who are better at guessing are also the ones who are better when it comes hiding the button. Either the right hand or the left hand, it does not matter.