The Lenape Game of Mamantuhwin

Mamantuhwin is a dice-type game played by the Lenape Native Americans from eastern Pennsylvania (also sometimes called the Delawares). Women and children played it for entertainment, while men used it for gambling.

Native American dice from Iowa, with dice bowl

History

Mamantuhwin (the name is Lenape for “deer buttons”)  was being played by the Lenape for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans. 

In 1681, William Penn had a meeting with representatives from the King of England, Charles II. The King had borrowed 16,000 pounds from Penn’s father, a wealthy merchant, and the 37-year old William was now calling in the debt. But the King’s coffers were low, drained by constant warfare with France, and so in lieu of cash, Charles II offered Penn a large tract of land in the English possessions in North America. Penn accepted, and the territory of “Penn’s Woods”, or “Pennsylvania”, became his own privately-owned colony.

Although under English law he had already been granted free title to the land, Penn was a Quaker as well as a practical man, and both his religious ideals and his business sense told him that it would be best if he were to pay a sum to the Natives who were already living in Penn’s Woods. These were the Lenape, a tribe who lived along the river that the Europeans had named the Delaware, and which name was soon applied by the whites to the Native Americans. The Delawares were under the political control of the powerful Iroquois Confederacy which held the territory to the north. In a series of treaties, Penn purchased several tracts of land in the Delaware River Valley, where he established the town of Philadelphia. A devout Quaker, Penn was scrupulously honest in his dealings with the Lenape, and they in turn began to refer to any white settler who treated the Natives well as a “quakel”.

Lenape relations with the Europeans soured in 1718, however, when William Penn died and the Pennsylvania colony was inherited by his three sons. The European population in Pennsylvania had grown during this time, and by 1735 there were already white settlements extending up the Delaware River, as far as the Lehigh River Valley. The settlers began pressuring the Penn brothers to obtain clear title to this land from the Lenape. The Lenape band which lived in the Lehigh Valley, however, led by Nutimas, refused to sell. Many of them had already moved to eastern Pennsylvania from New Jersey, across the Delaware River, to escape white encroachment, and they had no desire to move again.

In response, Thomas Penn resorted to some trickery. The Penn brothers brought in representatives from the Iroquois Confederacy, who claimed authority over the Lenape, and had them sign an agreement giving up claims to most of the territory north of Philadelphia, which was sealed by the so-called “Walking Purchase” in 1737. Defrauded of their land, the Lenape moved to the other side of Pennsylvania, at present-day Pittsburgh, only to be removed again after the French and Indian War in 1763 and settled in “Indian Territory” in what is now Oklahoma. The remnants of the tribe that remain in Oklahoma today are trying to keep their culture and language alive, including the old game of Mamantuhwin.

Equipment

There is no game board. To play Mamantuhwin, you will need 7 dice sticks, and 24 score markers for each player. Any number of players can play.

Traditional Lenape dice were usually made by cutting a series of slices from a deer antler to make a number of thin coin-like discs which were colored on one side (usually painted black with charcoal or red with ochre), or sometimes just marked with a large colored dot. Dice were also sometimes made from the flat toe bones of a deer, or from dried beans with one side painted. Modern versions can be made from poker chips, cardboard discs, or bingo tokens. My dice sticks are made from wooden craft sticks that have been colored on one side and blank on the other. Players can also use coins, with one side representing “white” and the other side representing “black”.

Each player receives 24 score markers. These can be any small object like buttons or beads: the Lenape traditionally used corn kernels.

To Play

Players take turns shaking and tossing the dice. According to the dice roll, players then either give or receive score markers from each other, according to the following rules:

If the dice roll shows 1 black side facing up, the thrower gives 1 of his score markers to each of the other players.

If the dice roll shows 2 black sides facing up, the thrower gives 2 of his score markers to each of the other players.

If the dice roll shows 3 black sides facing up, the thrower gives 3 of his score markers to each of the other players.

If the dice roll shows 4 black sides facing up, the thrower gives 4 of his score markers to each of the other players.

If the dice roll shows 5 black sides facing up, each player gives 2 of their score markers to the thrower, and the thrower gets another turn.

If the dice roll shows 6 black sides facing up, each player gives 4 of their score markers to the thrower, and the thrower gets another turn.

If the dice roll shows 7 black sides facing up, each player gives 10 of their score markers to the thrower, and the thrower gets another turn.

Any player who loses all their score markers is out of the game. The game ends when one player has all the score markers.

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