American Indian Lacrosse: Little Brother of War

Overview

To understand the aboriginal roots of lacrosse, one must enter a world of spiritual belief and magic where players sewed inchworms into the innards of lacrosse balls and medicine men gazed at miniature lacrosse sticks to predict future events, where bits of bat wings were twisted into the stick's netting, and where famous players were—and are still—buried with their sticks. Here Thomas Vennum brings this world to life.

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Overview

To understand the aboriginal roots of lacrosse, one must enter a world of spiritual belief and magic where players sewed inchworms into the innards of lacrosse balls and medicine men gazed at miniature lacrosse sticks to predict future events, where bits of bat wings were twisted into the stick's netting, and where famous players were—and are still—buried with their sticks. Here Thomas Vennum brings this world to life.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Lacrosse is recognized as the oldest of North American sports, its roots running deep into Native American history. In tracing its origins, Vennum relates how the game frequently rose above recreational status, functioning as a substitute for warfare between tribes as well as a curative for a variety of ailments. It also afforded the tribes an opportunity ``to express social alliances, at the kinship, village, reservation, and national levels.'' Detailed explanations of the rules, techniques, equipment, and playing fields are accompanied by numerous illustrations depicting the game's development. This exhaustive, well-documented work serves as a definitive study of the sport in its traditional form. A worthy addition to core subject and Native American collections.-- William H. Hoffman, Ft. Myers-Lee Cty. P.L., Fla.
Booknews
Often viewed as a gift from the spirits and as far more than recreation alone, lacrosse has functioned in Indian life as a surrogate or "little brother" of war, as a healing ritual, and as a memorial celebration. Featuring archival illustrations, this book presents a rare account of the rules, equipment, techniques, regional differences, and legendary underpinnings of the game among tribes of the Northeast, Southeast, and Great Lakes regions, including the spiritual components of the game, with interesting sections on lacrosse legends and Indian stick making. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Gilbert Taylor
Father Le Mercier, one of the "Black Robe" missionaries of the 1630s, set down an early written account of lacrosse (a negative one, disparaging the custom as heathen), just one of many accounts and legends that Vennum recasts. An ethnographer, he shifts between tales to the sport's cultural expressions within the eastern woodland Indian tribes and its centuries-long development toward its current form and popularity among Native Americans, and as a springtime college sport. Before the NCAA's play-offs, there were even bigger big-time contests: Vennum regales readers with the play-by-play, replete with pregame invocations of the Great Spirit and post-game recriminations about the result, of a Seneca-Mohawk match in 1794. When not retelling other notable encounters, Vennum describes the equipage, variant rules, and, in an interlude, the paintings of George Catlin. His images are among a trove of illustrations on this unique contact sport, all of which blend into the enthusiastic, if idiosyncratic, text. In places where lacrosse lives (along the Mississippi and eastward), patrons will be pleased to see this.
American Anthropologist

Brings the game's cultural complexities and historical roles to life... A major contribution to the cultural history of sport.

Book News

This book presents a rare account.

idrottsforum.org/recensioner

An important study and a good read... Vennum's writing style is an alluring blend of hygienic academic analysis and historical accounts, narratives and interviews, a style used deliberately throughout the book... His book is a compelling journey into the historical exploration of an old team sport.

— Halvdan Haugsbakken

Journal of Anthropological Research

An interesting recount of the various ways that Indians utilized the game in their cultural, social, and curative worlds.

— Joe Watkins

Washington Times

In a mix of narrative, interviews, analysis, and tribal lore, Mr. Vennum has crafted a complex and entertaining book... American Indian Lacrosse offers a sweeping new perspective on a game that has functioned, at various times, as symbolic combat ritual, healing ceremony, gambling spectacle, war ruse, and intercollegiate sport.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781560983019
  • Publisher: Smithsonian Institution Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/1994
  • Pages: 376

Meet the Author

Thomas Vennum, senior ethnomusicologist emeritus at the Center for Folklife Programs and Cultural Studies, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., is the author of Lacrosse Legends of the First Americans. Retired and living in Tucson, Arizona, he continues research among Indian tribes in Sonora, Mexico, specifically the Seri.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     viii
Preface     ix
Prologue: Carrier Dome, Syracuse University, 21 May 1989     1
Huron Country, 1637     9
"How the Bat Got Its Wings"     27
Iroquois Country, 1794     53
The Bishop's Crook and Other Misnomers     69
Ballistas and Cannonshot     73
Fort Michilimackinac, 1763     83
A Stake in the Game     103
"The Overhead Flourish" and "The Pounce"     119
Fort Gibson, Indian Territory, 1834     133
"The Indian Gallery"     145
Breechclouts and Bare Feet     161
Cherokee Reservation, 1888     190
Little Brother of War     213
"It's a Toss-up"     237
Montreal, 1866     253
"Lo, the Poor Mohawk!"     265
Epilogue: Niagara-Wheatfield High School, 1991     295
Lacrosse Legends     301
Indian Lacrosse Stick Making     319
Notes     329
Bibliographic Note     341
Bibliography     345
Illustration Credits     351
Index     353
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