Sacred Texts  Native American  California  Index  Previous  Next 

Religious Practices of the Diegueño Indians, by T.T. Waterman, [1910], at


Gambling among the Diegueño as among many primitive peoples has so much of the formal in it, and so many "charms" connected with it, that it becomes almost a religious observance.

Figure 3.—Diegueño women's dice from Campo. Mus. No. 1-14483.
Click to enlarge

Figure 3.—Diegueño women's dice from Campo. Mus. No. 1-14483.

p. 330

[paragraph continues] The Diegueño play at the present time several gambling games. Some of these have been introduced by the Mexicans and Americans. A four-dice game (fig. 3) is said to have been learned from the Mohave. The large, flat wooden "dice "with which it is played are found only among the southern Diegueño, who are nearest the influence of the Mohave and other eastern tribes of the Yuman family. A gambling game with stick and hoop, in which the player tries to throw the stick through the hoop while rolling, is mentioned in Diegueño mythology. 123 This game is no longer played. There is a game played by the Diegueño at the present day, however, which is believed by them to be of ancient origin. This game, called "peon," in Diegueño homarp, is mentioned in the Chaup myth. 124 It is the only game among the Diegueño which is played ceremonially. 124a

The game is played by two sides of four players each. Each individual is provided with two small cylindrical objects of bone or wood, similar except that one has a black band around the middle. These cylinders or "peons," in Diegueño nyumumarpai, are clasped one in each fist of the player. One side guesses in which hand the other side hold their white peons.

These guessing bones are of course a familiar gambling device along the whole Pacific coast. In the method of play, however, followed by the Diegueño, the players are not considered as individuals. The side only is considered in the guessing. The players making the guess agree together, and one man offers the resulting conclusion as their joint guess. So also the other side is looked upon not as individuals but as a unit. The "guess" applies to all equally. At the beginning of the game lots are drawn to determine which side is to begin the guessing and which side shall act on the defensive. After that, every player who is correctly guessed must surrender his peons for the time being to the player opposite him. When all the pairs of peons have been won from the players of the first side, the losing side must begin to guess, the winning side taking the

p. 331

defensive. For every bad guess, the players acting on the defensive get one point.

The peons are adjusted to the wrists of the players by means of leather thongs, to prevent any sleight-of-hand work at the critical moment. When adjusting the peons the players cover their hands with a blanket, the edge of which they hold in their teeth. Before dropping the blanket they fold their arms, to hide the peons still further. The guessing is indicated by pointing. Pointing with one finger indicates that the white peon is believed to be in the hand pointed at. Pointing with two fingers implies that the peon is believed to be in the opposite hand. The guess is merely a "trial," however, unless the player commits himself to it by a spoken word.

The method followed in play is to point at a player in silence, and then endeavor to read from his expression whether the guess thus indicated is or is not the correct one. It is a fact that some men always betray themselves at the first "point" to the beady scrutiny of the opposing players. Others can assume such a wooden expression that they may be wrongly guessed five or six times in succession. Since each poor guess represents a point won, such players are much in demand as partners. In order to hide or cover all facial expression, each player yelps and throws himself about, folding his arms and keeping his hands out of sight. In actual practice the members of the guessing side go over the opposing players separately, clapping their hands and pointing until the location of the peons is thought to be understood. They then compare notes, and one of them, speaking for all, claps his hands with a gesture and calls out the guess. Every one of their opponents who is caught must give up his peons. But for every bad guess a point is lost. This goes on until all of the peons have passed to the guessing side, or until all of the points in the game have been won by the opposing side. As soon as all of the peons are won, the guessing, as already indicated, reverts to the opposite side.

The winning of fifteen points constitutes the game. Points are represented by fifteen long wooden counters, eselkwak. At the beginning of the game these counters, together with the stakes which are wagered, are placed in the hands of an umpire, who

p. 332

sits at the end of the "alley" between the two rows of players. He doles out the counters as points are won by each side. After they have all left his hands, the players pass them back and forth directly as points are lost or won. The stakes in this game often used to amount to one hundred dollars. Two or three days are sometimes required to bring a game to a close.

The game is primarily inter-village in character. This trait has been somewhat obscured in late years, though "teams" are still to some degree identified with certain rancherias. The women gather behind the side which represents their particular locality and sing songs to bring luck while the play is in progress. Specimens of these songs are the following:


tcītcīnai yūwinī 125


tcītcīnai yūwana


hya-a yūwinī


hya-a yūwana




hakē waiyūma


hatra lemē wiyōna




haōko melume 126


hakō melume


haēwila mēnēwila



Certain religious practices accompany this game. The flowers of an umbelliferous herb, in Spanish chuchupate, are dried and made into a powder. This powder is rubbed over the face and breast of a player, and a little of it thrown furtively on the fire which burns to one side. This is held to bring luck. Players sometimes chew a little of this chuchupate, or a little dried jimson-weed. Occasionally the tails of small snakes are cut off, dried, and pounded into a "powder." This powder is thrown on the fire. It is thought to poison the other side "a little," making them "give up the peons" quickly. Black spiders (tarantulas or trap-door spiders) also are used in this way.


330:123 Journ. Am. Folk-Lore, XIX, 157, 1906.

330:124 Ibid., XVII, 239, 1904.

330:124a For an account of this game, see Stewart Culin, "Games of the North American Indians," Ann. Rep. Bur. Am. Ethn., XXIV, 323-325.

332:125 University of California phonograph record 701.

332:126 Ibid., 702.

Next: Colors and Direction