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The Throwing of the Ball – Tápa Waŋkáyeyapi

Tápa Waŋkáyeyapi – the throwing of the ball in the old days was very different from the modern game played with four teams, four goals and a ball. The original ball was made of buffalo hair covered with buffalo hide. Today, balls are usually beaded and colorful.

In a ceremony before the throwing, the ball was painted red, with a blue dot in each of the four quarters. Two blue circles were painted around the ball, symbolizing the coming together of heaven and earth, making the ball sacred. A pipe was purified with sweetgrass smoke while prayer was offered up to Wakáŋ Táŋka and the powers of the four directions. The ball was said to have been given to man by the buffalo, symbolizing that man was the inheritor of the earth.

A young girl was chosen to throw the ball, and she stood at the center of a large circle with the four directions marked. First, she threw the ball to the West, and it was caught by one of the people and brought back to her. She then threw the ball to the other three directions, and the person who caught it brought it back to her. Finally, she threw the ball up in the air, and it was caught and returned to her.

The little girl symbolizes innocence and purity. The throwing of the ball to each direction shows that Wakáŋ Táŋka is everywhere. As the ball comes down on the people, His power also comes down; however, very few people receive or catch it.

“At this sad time today among our people, we are scrambling for the ball, and some are not even trying to catch it, which makes me cry when I think of it. But soon, I know it will be caught, for the end is rapidly approaching, and then it will be returned to the center, and our people will be with it.”  —Black Elk, 1953


The Sacred Pipe: Black Elk’s Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux. Recorded and Edited by Joseph Epes Brown. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1953.
The Gift of the Sacred Pipe. Based on Black’s Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux, recorded and edited by Joseph Epes Brown. Edited and Illustrated by Vera Louise Drysdale.