Inuit (Eskimo) Games

Inuit Exhibit French Language Button German Language Button

For text in either French or German, click the appropriate button. Regardless of text language on each page in this section of the Website, photographs and graphics are the same.

The following text offers general information about the games of Inuit culture. To find out about a specific Inuit game in the collection, click on a picture at the bottom of this introductory page.

The aboriginal cultural groups inhabiting small enclaves in coastal areas of Canada, Greenland, Alaska, and Northeastern Siberia call themselves Inuit or Yuit meaning "the people". The name Eskimo is a negative misnomer. During the early years of exploration, English fur traders heard French fur traders talk about a northern people whom the southern Algonquin spoke of as Eskimaux - meaning "the eaters of raw flesh in the north".

Many Inuit games are traditional and require no equipment. These latter games concern physical strength, agility, and endurance. Some traditional games may have been learned in Asia before the Inuit migrated across the Bering Strait (c2000bc), while others were undoubtedly learned after migration, through contact with southern aboriginal peoples who had migrated at an earlier time from Asia into the western hemisphere.

Inuit Bilboquet

Contact with Europeans after 1700ad influenced some Inuit games and Inuit game playing. The picture on the left is an example. It is a copy of a 1970 Inuit print by Eyeetowak Toolaaktouk. It is a bone version of the game of Bilboquet, and is evidence of wide spread European influence since the game is found in such diverse areas of the world as Japan, Mexico, Italy, as well as North America. In other areas of the world the equipment is made of wood, but like many Inuit games, it was copied from equipment carried by travelers in the years prior to the 20th century, and made of materials at hand in the Arctic, such as bone and sinue.

Public gallery

During the 20th century, the Danish government in Greenland, the United States government in Alaska, the Russian government in Siberia, and the Canadian Government throughout Canada have had considerable influence on Inuit culture including games and game playing. The photo at the right is an example of an exhibit of Inuit games. In addition to game equipment, the collection includes original Inuit art prints of game playing, and objects Inuit artists have made for sale to the public.

Canada area map

For the Inuit games presented in this Website section, a geographic origin is listed. This area map indicates these places within the Arctic. Although games are played by the Inuit in many areas, the sites from which objects are acquired include the following: Baffin Island, Cape Dorset, Holman Island, Igloolik, Pelly Bay, Rankin Islet, and Repulse Bay.

Click a picture below to find out more about each game.

Bilboquet Blanket Toss Wrestling
Biboquet Blanket Toss Wrestling
Ball GamesJumping Target
Ball Games Jumping Target games
Tug-of-War JugglingBola
Tug Of War Juggling Bola
Yoke Puzzle Three-in-a-RowBone Puzzle
Yoke Puzzle Three In A Row Bone Puzzle
Darts Cribbage BoardBone Dominoes
Darts Crrbbage board Dominoes


The following are some general references. References for specific games are cited on the Webpage about that game.

  • F.H. Eger, Eskimo Inuit Games, Vancouver: X-Press, 3rd Edition (nd).

  • R.G. Glassford, Application of a Theory of Games To The Transitional Eskimo Culture, New York: Arno Press, 1976.

  • Pitseolak, Pictures Out of My Life, Oxford University Press, 1971.

  • D. Savole, "Two Eskimo Games At Port Nouveau, PQ", The Musk-Ox, #7, 1970.

  • E.H. Mitchell, Canadian Eskimo Artifacts, Ottawa: Canadian Arctic Producers, 1970.

  • T.H. Lathrop, "Eskimo Games and the Measurement of Culture Change: Fieldwork at Rankin Inlet", The Musk-Ox, #5, 1969.

  • W.M. Zuk, Eskimo Games, Ottawa: Education Division, Northern Administration Branch, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, 1967.

Last update June 15, 2010