Inuit Bone Gambling Game and Puzzle

Inugaktuuk Bone Gambling Game

Purchased from an Inuit cooperative in Pelly Bay (western Arctic) in 1973, this game is somewhat unique. It is called Inukat or Bone Gambling Game. The bag is made of caribou leather and is 21.5cm long x 16.5cm wide. It's texture is rough. It is wider at the bottom than at the top, and tapers to 11cm wide 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. Printed instructions were received with the game. The game appears to be a cross between a "jigsaw puzzle" and "fishing". Ashoona Bone Game Lithogaph

The copy of the lithograph at the right is called Inugaktuuk (Bone Game), and was created by Mayoreak Ashoona (Cape Dorset) in 1993. The original is approximately 56" x 76", printed black on white. At the top of the picture one sees a range of other Inuit implements used in hunting. Although the copy of the game equipment comes from Pelly Bay - some distance from Cape Dorset as the map on the main Inuit Webpage illustrates - the game appears to be quite common throughout the Arctic.

How The Game is Played

In E.H. Mitchell, Canadian Eskimo Artifacts, Ottawa: Canadian Arctic Producers, 1970, Father Van de Velde, a Belgium Jesuit missionary and ethnologist living for many years (since 1937) with the Inuit in the high Arctic, describes the game of Inukat. His description is almost identical to the printed one the received with the purcase of the object. Here is Father Van de Velde's description:

Photo of Inuits Playing Inugaktuuk

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 decides the winner. Tarsal bones other than seal bones are permitted, however, the game is complicated by disallowing the use of certain bones.

A popular form of the bone game is to insert into the open end of the bag a thin thong with a running noose. The neck of the bag is held closed with the fingers, and inverted, the noose is then pulled tight. The one who can extract the greatest number of bones contained within the noose is the winner. All bones are identified by fictitious names and in some forms of play have specific values.

Last update June 17, 2010