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Lahal: A Game To Teach Children Traditional Songs and Drumming

Lahal: A Game To Teach Children Traditional Songs and Drumming

May 20, 2021
Category: General 

By Francois Prince


The game is a gambling game and was traditionally played by adults. Recently, children have been taught Lahal as it allows Elders to teach traditional songs and different drum-beats that are used during various styles of songs. The history of individual tribes and stories relating to the game can also be passed on. Children learn to work together as a team, and develop respect, trust, self-confidence, and pride. This also serves as a chance to learn how to carve their own Lahal sticks and bones. 

Materials required: 

- Traditional drum 

- At least 5 sticks per team. The sticks are carved. Each team needs to have the same number of sticks. One extra stick is used as the King Pin.

- 4 carved bones - usually deer, moose or elk bone - and about 2 inches long. There are 2 plain carved bones (female bones) and 2 bones that have a ring or protruding ring around the bone (male bones).

A Lahal Kit
A Lahal kit


- There are 2 teams with at least 3 members per team. Teams can have odd numbers of players. During fun games, people can come and leave as they wish. During competitions, team members must stay seated. 

- Invite an Elder to come and teach the game and the Lahal songs.

- Teams sit directly across from one another with the sticks laid out in front of team members. 

- Each team has one female bone and one male bone. 

- The game begins with one team having the drum and the other guessing where the male bones are hidden. 

- Game takes from one to four hours

- Can be played indoors or outdoors; traditionally played during cultural events

Rules of the game:

- To start the game, each team designates someone to hold the bones and someone to guess what hand the bones with the rings (male bones) are in. The team that guesses where the male bones are wins the opportunity to have the bones first. They also win an extra stick (the King Pin). This may vary among tribes. The King Pin may be used at the end of the game. If the team that won the King Pin is losing, then it is like having an extra stick.

- Each team chooses a team captain who will be responsible for their team and most decisions will go through the captain. The team captain is usually the person who formed the team and is one of the stronger Lahal players.

- The object of the game is to win all of the other team's sticks and the King Pin.

- For the purpose of this explanation, the team that wins the bones will be referred to as Team A, while the opposing team will be Team B: 

1. Team A sings their Lahal song and tries to distract Team B, while 2 members of Team A are mixing up the bones behind their backs or under a sweater and hiding the bones in their hands. Team B members are continually watching so they can guess where the bones are. 

2. Team B tries to guess what hand(s) Team A has hidden the male bones in. 

3. If Team B guesses correctly, then they win a set of bones for every correct guess. If they guess incorrectly, then they must pass one of their sticks over to Team A. This continues until Team B wins both sets of bones. 

4. If Team B guesses incorrectly, then they continue to loss their sticks until they have none left. Should they reach this point and continue to make incorrect guesses, Team A will lay one of their sticks on top of a stick they have won. These sticks are considered to be "dead sticks". This continues until either all of the sticks that have been won are "dead" or Team B begins to win some of their sticks back. 

5. The only way Team B can win sticks back from Team A is to correctly guess which hand(s) the bones are in. If Team B wins both sets of bones, then Team A becomes the guessers and the game continues. 

6. The first team to win all of the other team's sticks and ensure that all the sticks are dead wins the game. 

7. There is to be no cheating. If cheating occurs, then the team is disqualified.

Hand movements during the game: 

- The person guessing where the male bones are typically uses her/his pointing finger.

- When there are only 1 set of bones to guess for that person, they usually point either left or right.

- If there are 2 sets of bones to guess for, and the person guessing only wants to guess for 1 set of bones, then he or she can hold one of the guesses. They do this by holding up their hand to stop the guess from either the player on the right or left. If the guess they want to hold is on their left, then they would hold up their left hand. They can then turn to the other player holding the bones and make their guess. This is one way to try to win 2 bones for those players who are confident that they know where the male bones are.

- If the person guessing is trying to guess where both male bones are and they believe both male bones are in the outside hands of players on the opposite team, they will hold down their 3 inside fingers and spread apart their thumb and pinkie finger. This indicates they think the male bones are on the outside.

- If the person guessing thinks the male bones are in the inside hands of the two people holding them, then they would hold their hand straight and make a chopping kind of motion indicating they thought the male bones were down the middle.

There is no use of drugs or alcohol during the game.


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Last modified: Monday 29-Jan-24 10:19:46 PST