Waltes is a kind of dice game thought to be of pre-Columbian origin. Although it is still played today, skilled players are increasingly rare.

The game is played on a circular wooden dish called a waltestaqn ('wall tess stah ahn') which is about twelve inches in diameter, hollowed to three-quarters of an inch at its centre. It is usually made from a hardwood burl, whose non-directional wood grain provides strength to withstand enthusiastic play. There are six disk-shaped dice made of bone, each with one side plain and the other side marked with a dotted cross design. There are also a number of scoring sticks: one shaped like the forward half of an arrow, three more shaped like the back half with fletching, and fifty-one plain sticks. The king pin was also referred to as kesegoo ('gis ee goo', the old man) and the notched sticks as his three wives and the plain sticks as his children.

A waltestaqn (note the hole in the center)

Waltes scoring sticks

To play, two players sit opposite each other with the dish between them, usually on a pad of leather or cloth. The six dice are placed on the waltestaqn with marked faces downward. One player takes the dish in both hands, raises it and brings it down with enough force to flip the dice. If all but one of the upturned faces are marked or unmarked, he scores a point and continues to play as long as one of such combinations result. When he fails to score, the amount of his winnings is withdrawn from the pile of sticks and forms his private pile. The other player repeats the dice throwing until he, too, fails to score. Scoring and counting are carried out according to very complicated rules, and game play can continue indefinitely.

Playing waltes

The waltestaqn itself was considered to be important in Mi'kmaw spirituality. When filled with water and left overnight, its appearance the next morning could be read to reveal knowledge of the past, present, and future. Because of this belief, French missionaries drilled holes in the bottoms of all waltestaqnk that they found, so that they could not hold water.


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Updated: 27 Mar 2016 Print Page