Playthings and Curios: Historic Inuit Art at the Canadian Museum 
of Civilization Back Next

Among the many games Inuit played in times of leisure, there were two whose pieces required the skill of the carver. One was a version of the pin and cup game, called ayagak. This involved an object perforated with holes, with a string and pin attached to it. Players were expected to pierce the object, which was often the skull of an animal. Isa Smiler from Inukjuak remembers that people would use their fingers and toes to keep count of who pierced the cup the greatest number of times in a row (Eger, p.28). Sometimes the ayagak was made in the shape of a bear.

Another game was tingmiujang (meaning images of birds), which was similar to dice. It consisted of a set of about 15 figures, some representing birds, as the name indicates, and others the figures of men or women.

F. H. Eger. Eskimo Games. [Vancouver: X-Press, 1984], p. 28.

Ayagak Ayagak, 1899
Fullerton Harbour, West Coast of Hudson Bay, Nunavut
Ivory, braided sinew
Bear: 4 x 11.5 x 2.8 cm
CMC IV-B-134
Collected by A. P. Low during the Neptune expedition in


Because the ivory bear is quite heavy, it would take great skill for players not to hurt their knuckles. Sometimes the rules of the game required the player to pierce one specific hole, making it even harder to win.

Fullerton Harbour, West Coast of Hudson Bay, Nunavut
Average dimension: 1.4 x 2.7 x 1.6 cm
CMC IV-B-132
Collected by A. P. Low during the Neptune expedition in
  Tingmiujang Top

Boas explains the game as follows: "The players sit around a board or a piece of leather and the figures are shaken in the hand and thrown upward. On falling, some stand upright, others lie flat on the back or on the side. Those standing upright belong to that player whom they face. Sometimes they are so thrown that they belong to the one who tossed them up. The players throw by turns until the last figure is taken up, the one getting the greatest number of the figures being the winner."*

*Boas, Franz
[1888] 1964 – The Central Eskimo. Reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, pp. 159-160.