An Inuit version of the glass bead game, and a Maori one, too

You know about the Glass Bead Game? Here’s some correspondence I received describing how it is actually played in other cultures

I couldn’t find any game that was about story telling and am interested if anyone has any references. My only sources on it thus far are from my two collaborators on the project. One had been given the game when he worked in an Inuit community in the 70s. He was very interested to hear that I had come across this list as he had made his own association between the StoryBones game and the GBG years ago.

My deepest source of reference about the game has been from the recollections of my other collaborator, an Inuit woman, who remembers it from her childhood. It was interesting how she told us about the game: We had the pieces of a game with us, which consisted of the bones from a fish head (they could be collections from other animals). When we first asked her how the game went she couldn’t remember. As soon as the bones where laid out in front of her she began touching, then moving the pieces. As she arranged she began to talk about the rules of the game and its uses. It was fascinating to watch her use the game to remember the game.

She described how children were told a story while the bones were arranged in front of them to represent its characters and situations. Gradually they learned to place the bones themselves accompanied by their own telling.

Adults used the game in a more personal and immediate sense. The story they told in a group as they laid out the bones was relevant to their current situation. They used the bones to provide some distance from the topic at hand, and thus talk about their feelings without being confrontational. So, for instance, the player might be angry with another member of the group 
and make up a story which ridiculed this person without ever identifying them directly. Everyone would know who they were talking about, and would probably have a good laugh over it. It would then be up to the victim to tell a comeback story which exonerated them. It was a way, in these very small and tightly knit communities, for sensitive issues of the day to be 
brought up and dealt with.

If anyone has come across this game I’m be very interested in hearing about it. I’ll send more on our web interpretation of the game in the near future.

Tom Leonhardt

We use Cuisinaire rods to teach with (other than their original purpose for teaching math) Maori here use them to teach their language in Kohanga Reo (language nests) to children and adults. They are also used in a similar way to the fish bones to teach concepts — We use them in class — my favourite is a story about the life cycle of a tree used to teach the philosophy of learning and helping others to learn — we use it during the orientation programme for our Diploma in Business course.  Students love it (ours are adults) — sit on the floor in a circle and have “stories” told to them with the coloured sticks laid out as the story unfolds to illustrate.  Also, each each student has a a rod or rods to place in the picture and share with others as the story grows and all become part of its meaning.


Helen Collins
Wanganui Regional Community Polytechnic 
New Zealand

Leave a Comment

This site uses inline comments. To the right of each paragraph, a comment bubble with a + sign appears when you click inside the paragraph. Click the bubble to load the comment form.