Games are an important part of the Inuit way of life and have been since the earliest days. A great number of stories from the earliest days describe traditional games as they are still played today. These games were not just played for fun; they were an important part of traditional way of life.
The games that the Inuit people played mirrored their living conditions. Games were played during community festivals and were meant to be fun and competitive but also had an educational aspect to them. The games prepared people for living on the land and the hunt that lay ahead. Many of the games tested the competitor’s strength, endurance, and pain resistance: tools needed to survive in the vast Arctic.
One-Foot High Kick
The One-Foot High Kick is one of the indoor games that were traditionally played during winter months, especially when several groups met during the dark and short days. It is a game that combines power (explosive strength) with a degree of coordination and body control. It is considered to be one of the most difficult and exciting of the Inuit Traditional Games.
Two-Foot High Kick
It is believed that this game originated among the people of Alaska. The Two-Foot High Kick is considered by athletes to be the most demanding Arctic Sport, keeping proper balance while airborne is difficult.
Alaskan High Kick
The Alaskan High Kick originated among, and was reintroduced by people from Alaska. From here, the game was distributed across the Arctic. Like many of the Inuit Games, it can be played in a confined area as there is no run up and the space required is no larger than the equivalent of a full body length in diameter or extension.
The One Hand Reach is closest to a ‘mind game’; mental focus and preparation are of the greatest importance along with physical strength and sense of balance. In the One-Hand Reach, even the slightest distraction is likely to cause immediate loss of balance, and the attempt will fail. Strength endurance in the upper body determines how far the competitor is able to extend the upper body, and thus how high he is able to reach.
Originally known as the ‘Eagle (Carry)’, Airplane is a competition of strength and endurance that requires a rigid body position with the arms straight out to the side and the feet straight back. Three carriers, one carrying each arm and one at the ankles lift the athlete and carry them over a pre-set course. The attempt is over once the body; usually the chest dips towards the ground. It is one of the few Inuit Traditional Games that does not require well-developed technical and motor skills.
The Kneel Jump as with many of the Inuit Games was used to get people ready for life on the land. One Elder mentioned that this Game was used to prepare hunters for conditions they may face on the land or frozen water. This game help enable hunters to move quickly when the ice started to break. From a kneeling position, the hunter would need to move quickly and jump a span of water to get to safety thus the kneel jump winner is the person that jumps the farthest and shows balance.
The Arm Pull is one of the traditional tug-o-ar Games. Maximum strength is the single factor that decides of the outcome.
On signal, competitors pull slowly and steadily at the elbow while bracing the opposite hand on the opponent’s ankle. Contact between the knee and elbow is not allowed. The pulling motion must be inside the elbows, not in an outward direction. The goal is to pull the opponent over or touch the opponent’s hand to the chest.
Traditionally this was a game that was used to test a person’s capacity to endure pain as much as physical abilities or technical skills. Knuckle Hop is a ‘Pain Game’ but rather then reaching the limits of their physical or technical skills, the athlete may be overcome by the pain inflicted and end the attempt. This is a competition of distance. The athlete who covers the greatest distance wins the round, and it often happens that a competitor will walk away from the course with scratched, bruised or even bleeding knuckles.
Like most traditional Games, the Head Pull requires very little equipment and can be played in just about any space available, indoors or outdoors. The Game is comparable to Tug-of-War. Two competitors position themselves on the ground facing each other supported only on their hands and toes. A leather loop is placed around their heads. When the signal is given, they begin to pull steadily and strongly. The competitor, who succeeds in either pulling the opponent across the target line or in pulling the belt off the opponent’s head, wins the match. It is not necessary that the participant with the greater maximum strength wins, but rather the competitor with the greater strength endurance will emerge as the winner.
Triple jump is traditionally a game of the people of the Magadan region (Russia). It is a repeated test of an athletes’ explosive strength, or power. As a distance competition, it can be compared to Track and Field’s Triple Jump, with one small difference; the athlete must jump with both (Two) feet not one foot.
The competitor kneels at the end of a bench. While supported at the ankles by an assistant, they lean forward and down and put a small object on the floor as far away from the bench as possible. The attempt is only valid if they succeed in moving back up into the starting position.
A game of pain and strength endurance. The participant will raise their legs and feet and rest the tops of their feet across the bar or pole. Placing hands/forearms behind their knees or thighs, they will pull their knees into their chests and raise their shoulders and head from the floor surface, until no part of their body is in contact with the floor.
Blanket Toss is a game often played at festivals and other Inuit celebrations and is reminiscent of non-Inuit contests that used a trampoline. It was part of celebrations that were held after a successful whale hunt. Everyone that caught a whale had to give a dance (Toss on the Blanket). The whole community was excited as this was the event of the year. The blanket made from walrus skin is used. The participants were tossed in the air until they could not stand or land on their feet anymore. Participants sometimes reached heights of 25 feet or more.