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Throwing Spears

2 November 2015 Comments Leave a comment

With the Cold Moons safely gone and the spring taking over for good, the women of the longhouses were hurrying out to start preparations for the new planting season. The winter time of the dried-meat-and-fruit diet would have everyone starving for fresh, juicy treats, from sweet maple syrup to fresh strawberries and anything else the generous earth was willing to offer at this time of the year, until people managed to make their crops grow anew. So the Maple Moon, the first moon of the spring, would be spent on collecting wonderfully sweet, highly nutritious maple sap, to celebrate, gorge and store for the year-round use.

However, before this moon’s activities were done with and the next Thundering Moon took over, the men would be hastened out there, lazy males that they were – or so some Clans Mothers would have claimed – to engage in the fields-clearing activities. Fallen trees, broken bushes, stones and other hurdles, the remainders of the fierceness of the winter moons, would require a male strength to be removed. This was the only part where women had shown tolerance to the male intervention in their business, the agriculture being solely female task in the Longhouse People’s society, their duty and their responsibility, the equality of genders those people knew centuries before other cultures were to discover such thing.

But politics aside, when the old fields were cleared or maybe a new one reclaimed from the surrounding forest, the men would not miss the opportunity to use the newly flattened ground for their own entertainment before the women got around planting their crops through the following Planting Moon. A spear-throwing contest required a perfectly flattened ground, just the one the newly cleared field was offering.

The game would start with the players dividing into two teams of various sizes, depending on the amount of the willing to participate. From a small group of men, or youths, or even just kids armed with sharpened sticks, playing in pairs, to teams as large as fifteen to thirty warriors displaying their skill on the Thunder Ceremony through the moon that bore the same name, preceding the Planting Moon, spear throwing contest was a popular way to display one’s expertise and skill.

The players goal was to fit one’s spear through a hoop that was rolled over the flat ground at a fairly removed distance from the thrower. As with teams, those came in various forms and sizes. Some hoops were simple, made out of a branch bent as a circle, tied at its edges with a leather strip. Others were invested devices, made out of bundled cornhusks wrapped in a rawhide. Those would usually sport a web of leather strips inside the ring, to assist in determining the score in the way the spear went through it.

The spears were varying in their appearance as well. From sharpened sticks to exclusive javelins to professional gaming spears with forked ends to catch the hoop so the spear wouldn’t go all the way through, the spears would pierce the hoops in their perfect middle, or anywhere near it, or maybe just push until it feel, cutting its flight over the field short – anything that made the hoop fall was declared a good throw. Only the clear miss would cause the player lose his pride together with his spear that was to be handed to his contester as his rightful spoil. Otherwise the teams would go on, hurling their spears until reaching the agreed amount of points, or until all spears changed their hands, sometimes accumulating in the possession of one good player or several.

Either way no onlooker would be left feeling as though they had wasted their time watching the game and cheering, or sometimes even betting on the possible winners, adding more items to the spears that were destined to change hands.

Sometimes the contesting team would throw their javelins all at once, displaying their superior skill and organization. More often though, the players would hurl their missiles in pairs, each representing the rival team, trying to pierce the hoop in his turn.

The player who pierced the hoop while his rival missed, would be declared the winner and the new owner of the loser’s spear. However if both players managed to make their spears go through, they would go on throwing again for an agreed-upon amount of tries, then the contest would be transferred to the next teams’ representatives.

The Thunder Ceremony was held in April, a Thunder Moon, celebrating the return of the Thunderers, who would come from “where the sun sets”, bringing back rains and replenishing the water life. According to the Creation Story, during the time when everything was new and the Celestial Twins were still struggling, Heno the Thunderer helped to drive many of the Evil Twin’s creations back into the earth with his mighty lightening, frightening and suppressing ferocious animals with it to these very days “… it’s been told that if the Thunderer were to cease, these animals would emerge and cause a lot of suffering… so, whenever we hear them, we are to make an offering to them of the real tobacco so that they will continue with their responsibilities…”

The War Dance, performed on this ceremony by men alone, was followed by the hoop and spear game, the spear throwing contest, played as the part of the ritual – not just a wonderful entertainment, but also the representation of the symbolic contests between the good and dark sides of the human nature, the Good Right-Handed and the Evil Left Handed Twin Brothers and their eternal struggle. This was the most official contest, played by large teams, owners of professional hoops and spears.

An excerpt from “The Warpath”, People of the Longhouse Series, book #4.

“Are you ready, mysterious non-Onondaga man?” The Flint was back in his good humor, balancing his precious javelin in his hand, playing with it, displaying his skill.

“Who throws first?”

“You. The host has the honor.”

“My pleasure.” Swinging his spear in his turn, Ogteah strolled toward the nearest spot that had less chances of the sun glowing directly in his eyes. The Flint man, he noticed, skipped quite a few tens of paces away, his limp again barely noticeable. Was he pretending to have this liability?

Ogtaeh pushed a new wave of misgivings away, sensing the eyes of the woman, the lively chatter of her companions distracting.

“Ready?”

The shout came from far enough, making him wish to grind his teeth. From what distance was this man intending to have them aiming? With this smaller hoop, and now from farther than customary, was he planning to have them both missing the target?

“Go on.”

Deciding to brazen it out rather than spend his time worrying over something he could not prevent at this point, Ogteah focused, measuring the distance, guessing the possible path of the ring with his eyes. There was no need to concentrate on the starting point. A veteran of many such contests, he knew that a brief glance in the hoop-thrower’s direction was more than enough. Those who studied the man, trying to predict his movements, missed half of their chances to hit the target before the ring rolled its course.

The deepening silence of those who watched warned him, heightened his awareness, made his muscles tense, his body tilting, the hand holding the spear only a part of the effort. As did the swish that his ears didn’t miss.

The hoop shot forward, like a pouncing predator, pushed with enough force to make it almost fly. At the same moment, Ogteah’s entire body came to life, his instincts deciding for him, as they always did.

Another swish, this of his spear, was louder, resonating in his ears. He could feel the force of the throw, the unerring path of the lethal weapon. It wouldn’t miss, he knew. It couldn’t. Indeed, the hum of the air released from quite a few chests at once told him that the target was down, before his eyes confirmed that. The women behind his back giggled as one of them shouted too loudly, not quick enough to hide her admiration.

“Not bad.” The Flint man didn’t bother to retrieve the fallen hoop, letting one of his friends rush along the tramped-on grass. “Impressive, really.”

But there was no real appreciation in the warrior’s voice. Or maybe there was, but his eyes flickered amusedly, unconcerned. It took the edge off Ogteah’s sense of victory.

“No sweat,” he said lightly, heading toward the man with the hoop and his own spear. “Show us what the Flint can do from such distance.”

“Quite a lot, mysterious local. Quite a lot.”

Rolling the ring was never his favorite part of the competition. He did not do it well, not like some others, who could send the hoop practically flying. Like the annoyingly self-assured Flint.

“Ready?”

He just shoved it forward, in no showy manner, not surprised when the colorful spear pushed it violently, made it fall before it reached the middle of its journey, losing no momentum. Worried a little, he rushed forward, to see that the missile did not go through the perfect middle.

“Not bad as well,” he called out, relieved. The spear didn’t even stick in the web, but was lying quite a distance away, having probably hit the outer ring. A near miss, he thought, smirking. Why did he let stupid misgivings bother him at all?

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