Wampanoag children have always learned important skills from playing and watching the adults around them. Among other activities, they learned how to swim, shoot and dodge arrows, weave, sew, run swiftly, and play games of skill and chance as part of Wampanoag culture in the 1600s.
As small children, Wampanoag boys and girls were taught to swim in the fresh water ponds as well as the saltwater ocean. They would practice diving and swimming underwater, and how to be still in the water. Both Wampanoag children and adults needed to know how to swim because traveling by mishoon (dugout boat) was very common.
Young Wampanoag boys began to learn how to shoot arrows at an early age so that they could hunt a running deer or a flying pigeon when they were older. Their grandfathers, fathers, older brothers or uncles would make them small bows. At first, the children practiced shooting at targets with arrows made from of reed or rushes. Older boys were given adult-sized arrows, which could travel about 100 yards when they were shot.
Wampanoag girls learned many skills from being with and watching adult women. They would make small pots out of clay, modeled after the bigger cooking pots that their mothers made. They played with dolls and learned to how to make their own out of cornhusks and corncobs. They learned to dress the dolls, sew clothing, and weave small bags as well.
Both girls and boys learned and played many games. There were lots of different kinds of “toss and catch” games. A small object, such as a ring made of a vine, was tied to a string. The end of the string was tied to a stick. The children would toss the object up in the air and try to catch it on the end of the stick. Some toss and catch games were made from deer bones. Toss and catch games encouraged good eye-and-hand coordination. This skill helped in hunting with a bow and arrows, and also with weaving and other kinds of careful work.
Both boys and girls practiced running in footraces. Native People were known to be excellent runners. Sachems (leaders) sent messengers from village to village to carry news to the People. These messengers had to be runners with good endurance for long distances. Learning to run well as a child was good practice for becoming a messenger as an adult.
Some games were played for sport or for settling a disagreement. One very popular game was called “the bowl game” or “hubbub.” It used a wooden bowl, and a number of flat, marked playing pieces. One side of these pieces was dark and the other side was light-colored. The players bounced the playing pieces by bumping the bowl on the ground. Score was kept using scoring using sticks that were passed back and forth, depending on who won each toss. As they bounced the game pieces, the players chanted “hub, hub, hub.”
Children also learned about Wampanoag life and traditions by listening to stories, singing, and dancing. Although all these activities and games were fun for children, these were the ways in which Wampanoag children learned the skills to live well as adults.
Do you ever play naughts and crosses, draughts, all hid, lummelen, or hop frog? You may not think so, but you probably do! These are the names of games that children played in 17th -Century England and that you might play today. In the 21st century, however, we know them by different names: naughts and crosses is tic, tac, toe and draughts is checkers. Can you guess what all hid and hop frog are? They are hide and seek and leap frog. What about lummelen? That's keep away. Next time you play one of these games, stop and think how amazing it is that you're playing the same game that children played 400 years ago!
Although these games were common in England, historians don't know much about the games that Pilgrim children played. Few people from back then wrote letters or kept records about something that seemed so ordinary to them. It's pretty safe to guess that children in Plymouth Colony probably played the same kinds of games that were played in England and Holland at that time.
Historians aren't even sure how often children in Plymouth played. One thing is certain though, they played a lot less than most children do today! Children in Plymouth Colony worked hard. They began at an early age to do important work for the family like working in the corn fields, cooking, fetching water, taking care of the animals, and watching younger children. Some children also learned to read and write at home; there was no school in Plymouth for many years.
Even though they worked hard, children probably were allowed to play a little every day. Many Pilgrim parents thought that is was fine for children to play games as a way of resting from work—as long as their children weren't playing instead of working! They thought that the best kind of games and sports for children were those that exercised their bodies (like running races) or their mind (like draughts). They also liked children to play games in which they practiced skills that they would need later in life (like playing house or playing with dolls). But they didn't like their children to play games that involved luck because that was too much like gambling.
What else might Pilgrim children have done for fun? They might have played word games, like gliffes. Gliffes are tongue twisters. Here's one from the 1600's. “Dick drunk drink in a dish; where's the dish Dick drunk drink in?” Riddles were popular too. Can you guess this one? What is ten men's length and ten men's strength, yet ten men cannot stand it on its end? Look at the end of this essay for the answer! Blowing bubbles was also a popular pastime for children. Children might even have played with toys like stilts, pinwheels, tops, hoops and marbles.
Children weren't the only ones having fun. Adults sometimes played games, sports or danced as part of celebrations, like weddings and harvest celebrations. In 1621 some people in Plymouth Colony even got in trouble for playing games on Christmas day! That's because some of the Colonists didn't believe in celebrating Christmas and so went off to work like any other day. But they allowed those who still wanted to celebrate the holiday to take a day off from their work, thinking that they would pray all day.
Later, they found those people playing stool ball (a game somewhat like volleyball) and pitching the bar (a contest of strength) in the street rather than praying. The Governor, William Bradford, took away their games and told them it “was against his conscience that they should play and others work.” Bradford wrote about this in his journal, which was published many years later. That's how we know all this happened. It shows you that while the Colonists worked hard, they had a little time to enjoy themselves too, sometimes too much!
Looking for the answer to the riddle? The answer is a rope! A rope is flexible so you can never stand it on its end!
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