Sport, Religion, and Native Identity

Michael Zogry, author of Anetso, the Cherokee Ball Game: At the Center of Ceremony and Identity guest blogs over at First Peoples, New Directions today about anetso, the precursor to field lacrosse which blends sport, religious ritual, and cultural identity. An excerpt:

Throughout the first decade of the twenty-first century, certain members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Nation have continued a centuries-long practice by engaging in a:ne:tso (anetso), what has, in English parlance, come to be called the “Cherokee ball game.” Noted as early as 1714 in non-Cherokee written accounts, missionaries, ethnographers and other itinerant travelers have described and discussed anetso regularly for almost three centuries.

Furthermore, Cherokee cultural narratives (“myths”; I choose not to use this term because it implies the story is false) record games that were played by “other-than-human persons” even before humans inhabited the earth. In the foundational cultural narrative of Kanati and Selu, the first Cherokee man and woman, the phrase “to play ball against” is used as a figure of speech. This narrative is analogous to the Hebrew Bible story of Adam and Eve, and other narratives in which individuals play anetso are of the same significance as those contained in other texts considered to be key components of particular religious systems.

Ostensibly an athletic contest that at one time pitted teams from the local community against one another in a regular seasonal schedule of games, it is a vigorous, sometimes violent activity that rewards speed, strength, and agility. However, interpreted as “game” within a broader framing of “religion,” anetso simultaneously resists and problematizes such classifications. Anetso, as an event, is itself the focus and hub of a “ceremonial complex” (or cycle), an extended series of activities that historically has featured virtually every activity that Cherokee people and non-Cherokee observers have identified as elemental of Cherokee “religion” or “ritual.”

Read Zogry’s full post over at First Peoples blog.