Manataka American Indian Council



Native American Games




By Mčssochwen Tėme


Pahsahėman is a traditional Lėnape game which dates back to before anyone can remember.  The earliest known writings about Pahsahėman date to about 1609, and were written by Henry Spelman who was captured and lived among the Lėnape for two years (1609-1610).   Pahsahėman was popular among the coastal tribes of the Lėnape and among the Shawnee, who, as we know, evolved from the Lėnape.  The only other people known to have played Pahsahėman were the Creeks.

Pahsahėman is a team sport in which the men play against the women. It is played with a ball which is called pahsahikąn, on a field which is generally 150 feet long and 60 feet wide.  (The field size is not absolute and can be larger if the players desire, but the dimensions given here are the ones usually used.)  At either end of the field are trees or posts measuring about 5-6 inches in diameter, 15 feet high, and about 6 feet apart, called goal posts  The ball is oblong in shape, about 9 inches in diameter at it fattest point, and traditionally was made of deerskin and stuffed with deer hair.  It was laced shut and at the end of the season, if the ball was in good enough condition, the hair was removed and the shell put away for usage next season. The game was played only from March or April (as soon as the weather became good enough to permit play) until mid June.  It was considered wrong to play it at other times of the year.  It was played in the afternoon.  There were no set number of games played.....just whatever the people decided.

The teams had no set number of players, the number being decided by mutual agreement.  One team consisted of all men while the other was all women. Young people could also play, but small children were not allowed to play for fear of them getting hurt.

The game begins when a selected elder goes to the center of the field and throws the ball straight up into the air.  The players jump up and try to knock it towards their own goal posts. The men can not run with nor pass the ball. They can only kick the ball forward.  The women can run with the ball, pass the ball, or kick the ball, if the ball is on the ground, (women can not high kick the ball) forward.  If a man intercepts the ball, or catches a kicked ball, he must stand where he is and kick the ball forward.  A man cannot tackle or grab a women, but must feign to prevent the women from passing by him or passing the ball.  He may knock the ball from her hands. Women can grab or tackle the men.

Scoring is accomplished by the women by running, passing, or kicking the ball between the goal posts. The men score by kicking the ball between the goal posts.  Score is kept by a selected elder. A pile of 12 sticks, about 2 inches long is used to keep the score.  When the women score a point a stick is removed from the pile and placed to the side, when the men score, a stick is removed from the pile and placed to the side as well.  In such manner 2 rows of sticks are made, one for the women's score and one for the men's score.  When all 12 sticks are gone from the original pile, which ever team has more sticks in their row is the winner.  If the score is tied, a 1 point playoff is played to determine the winner. 

An aside to the game.  A bet string is passed around the village.  A bet string is a long string on which those who wish to bet on a team tie something.  If the team the person bet on wins, the person can go and get anything off the bet string which has not already been spoken for.


For children, this game can be taken to school and given to teachers for play during recess, or to gym teachers for play during gym class.  It can also be played at family gatherings, or other group activities. 



 Lėnape History


Delaware (Lenape) Tribe of Indians: Homepage