[ by Charles Cameron -- Maori Haka vs Aboriginal War Dance, Rugby Football, the Huron origins of Lacrosse. the UK's Adventurous Training manual, and a testosteronic Christ with whip by El Greco ]
Let’s start with war dances on the twenty-first century Rugby football field. Here’s the Maori Haka vs the Aboriginal War Cry — in a video that’s all the more remarkable in that it pits two forms of Australasian war dance against one another:
One wonders whether the game can be won or lost before the game begins…
One commentator on the above clip said, “I’m guessing we’ll see something very similar when Tonga take on Samoa on Friday night”.
Here’s Tonga vs Samoa — not quite so ediying, perhaps, but a little closer to war?
– and, for what it’s worth, here’s New Zealand Maori Vs Tonga absent the feathers and war-paint:
What’s going on here is another of the intersections of wars and games — and that should be of interest to anyone who would like to see less conflict and more resolution.
Back in 2005, I wrote our my “vision” of games, and included the following:
In the back of my mind there’s a sense that games of high risk are somehow of great importance -– that gambling is not the province solely of addicts (players) and mafiosi (“the house”) but of some archaic and primordial importance that was sensed by the native peoples of America when they made gambling and the playing of games and sports a feature of their spiritual life.
By way of example, I quoted this excerpt from The Creator’s Game:
The Game of lacrosse was given to our people by the Creator to play for his amusement. Just as a parent will gain much amusement at the sight of watching his child playing joyfully with a new gift, so it was intended that the Creator be similarly amused by viewing his “children” playing lacrosse in a manner which was so defiant of fatigue.
Iry to bear in mind the tale of early ganes of chess in which the player was his own King on the board, subject to death if the game was lost — and of the ball games of the Mayans, where a whole team would be sacrificed to the gods if they played so superbly as to win…
And so to Lacrosse…
Of three kinds of games especially in use among these Peoples, — namely, the games of crosse, dish, and straw, — the first two are, they say, most healing. Is not this worthy of compassion? There is a poor sick man, fevered of body and almost dying, and a miserable Sorcerer will order for him, as a cooling remedy, a game of crosse. Or the sick man himself, sometimes, will have dreamed that he must die unless the whole country shall play crosse for his health; and, no matter how little may be his credit, you will see then in a beautiful field, Village contending against Village, as to who will play crosse the better, and betting against one another Beaver robes and Porcelain collars, so as to excite greater interest.
Sometimes, also, one of these jugglers will say that the whole Country is sick, and he asks a game of crosse to heal it; no more needs to be said, it is published immediately everywhere; and all the Captains of each Village give orders that all the young men do their duty in this respect, otherwise some great misfortune would befall the whole Country.
One account of the early game indicates that it had no boundaries, and only a single rule:
The Native American games were seen as major events, which took place over several days.They were played over huge open areas between villages and the goals, which might be trees or other natural features, were anything from 500 yards to several miles apart. Any number of players were involved. Some estimates have mentioned between 100 and 100,000 players participating in a game at any one time. The rules were very simple, the ball was not to be touched by a player’s hand and there were no boundaries. The ball was tossed into the air to indicate the start of the game and players raced to be the first to catch it.
Here’s Prof. Anthony Aveni‘s description of the game, in The Indian Origins of Lacrosse:
Originally, the lacrosse field lay on rough ground with opposing goal trees, or posts if vegetation was not convenient, as much as a mile apart. One game witnessed by a colonist tells of two villages engaging each other, hundreds of men on the field at once. The swiftest players usually would engage at the center of the field and the slower arranged themselves around the goal posts. The heavier players held the ground in between.
Once the sphere was tossed up, the player who caught it “immediately set out at full speed towards the opposite goal. If too closely pursued, he throws the ball in the direction of his own side, who takes up the race”—this from a description by a mid-nineteenth century witness. This account fits the present version of lacrosse, except that the old game was more violent. Often in striking the opponent’s stick to dislodge the ball, a player inflicted severe injury to an arm or leg. One chronicler tells us: “Legs and arms are broken, and it has even happened that a player has been killed. It is quite common to see someone crippled for the rest of his life who would not have had this misfortune but for his own obstinacy.” In this instance the player refused to give up the ball, which he had trapped on the ground between his feet.
Regarding the question of injury, Vennum (who wrote the book, see above) xplains:
Europeans were less impressed by the violence that they witnessed than by the lack of anger over injuries or losses. Almost all writers mention this “stoic” Indian characteristic.
Parkman‘s account of the “Pontiac Conspiracy” describes one such game in which the little brother of war deftly became its elder brother:
Bushing and striking, tripping their adversaries, or hurling them to the ground, they pursued the animating contest amid the laughter and applause of the spectators. Suddenly, from the midst of the multitude, the ball soared into the air and, descending in a wide curve, fell near the pickets of the fort. This was no chance stroke. It was part of a preconcerted scheme to insure the surprise and destruction of the garrison. As if in pursuit of the ball, the players turned and came rushing, a maddened and tumultuous throng, towards the gate. In a moment they had reached it. The amazed English had no time to think or act. The shrill cries of the ball-players were changed to the ferocious war-whoop. The warriors snatched from the squaws the hatchets which the latter, with this design, had concealed beneath their blankets. Some of the Indians assailed the spectators without, while others rushed into the fort, and all was carnage and confusion.
And little brother is still recognized as family into modern times. James Vennum writes:
During the Cherokee Fall Festival in North Carolina, I once watched the Wolftown Wolves beat the Wolftown Bears. Although the field was surrounded by carnival rides and food concession stands, little had changed in the Cherokee game since 1888, when it was described and photographed by James Mooney, who must have come by wagon on a dirt road to get there. Each team still marched abreast in line by degrees to midfield, letting out ritual war whoops and yells as they faced their opponents and laid down their sticks to be counted.
At the conclusion of the Cherokee game, in keeping with tradition, the teams were “taken to water,” an ancient ritual meant to cleanse and restore them from their warlike condition during the game.
I’m writing this post, as always, for my own instruction and delight — but also to give context to the recent Kings of War post, Colonel Panter-Downes Introduces the US Armed Forces to British Adventure:
Adventurous Training (AT) is a singularly British military activity and is a fundamental element of its training ethos and regime. Defined as “Challenging outdoor training for Service personnel in specified adventurous activities that incorporates controlled exposure to risk,” AT is invaluable as “the only way in which the fundamental risk of the unknown can be used to introduce the necessary level of fear to develop adequate fortitude, rigour, robustness, initiative and leadership to deliver the resilience that military personnel require on operations.” There are currently nine core AT activities and all UK Service Personnel are required to undertake this training as part of their basic training as well as post-operational decompression activities.
The Joint Services Pamphlet 419: Joint Service Adventurous Training Scheme can be downloaded here:
As you’ll see therein, the nine activities are..
Offshore Sailing, Sub-Aqua Diving, Canoeing and Kayaking, Caving, Mountaineering, Skiing, Gliding, Mountain Biking, Parachuting and Paragliding.
Mark you, I still don’t entirely understand why they include, say, kayaking, but not parkour — surely a high risk game as close to what might afford helpsul skills in urban warfare as we’re likely to see:
And quite incidentally, because I also ran across it today, because I’m interested in religion, because testosterone is the reductionist’s broad-strokes explanation for Rugby, Lacrosse, haka and war alike — and because I love El Greco above all other painters:
The blogger who has taken the pseudonym Archbishop Cranmer was writing about feminist theology today, and inter alia described Christ as..
a macho realist who deployed His divine testosterone on numerous occasions.
As in John 2.15:
And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables;
From the National Gallery in London, one of the later versions: