A Bola was primarily a hunting weapon used by many Aboriginal peoples throughout the Americas in the past. While those in the south may have made their Bolas from a range of local materials, the Inuit made theirs from sinew and bones. The Bola was whirled overhead and thrown at an animal’s legs to entangle the legs and prevent the animal from running.
A Bola was primarily a hunting weapon used by many Aboriginal peoples throughout the Americas in the past. While those in the south may have made their Bolas from a range of local materials, the Inuit made theirs from sinew and bones. The Bola was whirled overhead and thrown at an animal’s legs to entangle the legs and prevent the animal from running.

© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Bola

This Bola is made of two bones approximately 4.8cm long x 3cm wide x 1.3cm thick. A small hole is bored in the narrow end of each bone, and a piece of braided hemp is tied into each hole. The other two ends of the hemp are knotted together making the length of the object 86.5cm.

University of Waterloo
Canadian Heritage Information Network

© 1979 University of Waterloo


Two methods of play appear to exist. In the first method, a target such as a piece of wood is suspended and the Bola is whirled around and aimed at the target. The second method is an entirely different game called Chuk Chuk on Holman Island (western Arctic). In this method a player holds the tied ends of the hemp in one hand, and the bones in the other hand. Then letting go of one piece of bone, the hand holding the hemp swings that bone in a clockwise direction. When ready, the player lets go of a second piece of bone, sending it in a counter-clockwise direction while maintaining the direction of the first piece of bone. Finally, in the three-bone version, the third piece is dropped and all three must move in their own arcs without interfering with each other. The winner is the player who can do this. To complicate the game various body positions are taken, such as maintaining the movement above a player’s head, or holding the hemp knotted end in the teeth and moving the head up and down.
Two methods of play appear to exist. In the first method, a target such as a piece of wood is suspended and the Bola is whirled around and aimed at the target. The second method is an entirely different game called Chuk Chuk on Holman Island (western Arctic). In this method a player holds the tied ends of the hemp in one hand, and the bones in the other hand. Then letting go of one piece of bone, the hand holding the hemp swings that bone in a clockwise direction. When ready, the player lets go of a second piece of bone, sending it in a counter-clockwise direction while maintaining the direction of the first piece of bone. Finally, in the three-bone version, the third piece is dropped and all three must move in their own arcs without interfering with each other. The winner is the player who can do this. To complicate the game various body positions are taken, such as maintaining the movement above a player’s head, or holding the hemp knotted end in the teeth and moving the head up and down.

© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Bola

This Inuit Bola in the Museum Collection was purchased in 1973 from an Arctic cooperative, and is called Kiipooyaq. When fully extended it is 22cm long.

University of Waterloo

© 1973 University of Waterloo


The game "Bone Puzzle" appears to be a cross between a "jigsaw puzzle" and "fishing". In E.H. Mitchell, Canadian Eskimo Artifacts, Ottawa: Canadian Arctic Producers, 1970, Father Van de Velde, a Belgian Jesuit missionary and ethnologist who lived for many years with the Inuit in the high Arctic, describes the game of Inukat:

This game consists of a bag of mixed bones most common of which are the tarsal bones of the seal flippers, though the tarsal bones of birds and polar bears may be included. The game has several variations, one of which is to form small heaps of bones, one for as many players as are participating. At a given signal the players lay out the bones in rows and endeavour to reconstruct the skeletal anatomy of the seal’s hind flipper. Chance and the zoological skill of the player in compiling the first seal’s flipper decide the winner. Tarsal bones other than seal bones are permitted, however, the game is complicated by disallowing the use of certain bones".

The game "Bone Puzzle" appears to be a cross between a "jigsaw puzzle" and "fishing". In E.H. Mitchell, Canadian Eskimo Artifacts, Ottawa: Canadian Arctic Producers, 1970, Father Van de Velde, a Belgian Jesuit missionary and ethnologist who lived for many years with the Inuit in the high Arctic, describes the game of Inukat:

This game consists of a bag of mixed bones most common of which are the tarsal bones of the seal flippers, though the tarsal bones of birds and polar bears may be included. The game has several variations, one of which is to form small heaps of bones, one for as many players as are participating. At a given signal the players lay out the bones in rows and endeavour to reconstruct the skeletal anatomy of the seal’s hind flipper. Chance and the zoological skill of the player in compiling the first seal’s flipper decide the winner. Tarsal bones other than seal bones are permitted, however, the game is complicated by disallowing the use of certain bones".

© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Photograph of a "Bone Puzzle" game

The bag is made of caribou leather and is 21.5cm long x 16.5cm wide. Its texture is rough. It is wider at the bottom than at the top, and tapers to only 11cm at the neck. The sides are hand sewn. The thong which binds the bag is 43cm long and attached to one of the side seams. Inside the bag are approximately 41 animal bones - some from seals - some from birds. Along with the bones is another thong 63cm long x .5cm wide, tied into a noose at one end.

University of Waterloo

© 1973 University of Waterloo


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Describe the origin and nature of Inuit games
  • Describe two Inuit games including rules of play, and necessary materials: Bola and bone puzzles, and relate both games to the way of life and survival of the Inuit

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