Haida gambling sticks

CMC PCD 94-620-010

This set of gambling sticks was kept in a painted deerskin bag. Collected at the Nass River village of Gitlaxdimiks in 1905 by Charles F. Newcombe. CMC VII-C-142

The Haida had several popular games that involved gambling, and a lull in any social activity was a good reason to play. One game consisted of three sets of sticks, named after different animals or birds which were known only to the owner and his family. The sticks have rings and spiral markings to distinguish them, but the most elaborate sets are a veritable gallery of Haida art.

CMC PCD 94-620-008


The sticks were made of hard maple and were decorated by carving, painting and pyro-engraving with a hot poker; many were inlaid with abalone shell or copper. The drawings are difficult to appreciate at first glance, since they are completely wrapped around the sticks, which must be rotated slowly to unlock their form. Some have jumping shaman figures that resemble an animated cartoon; as the stick is rotated, one shaman after another jumps into view. Flying birds and jumping killer whales are also common.