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November 03, 2010
Seen at the Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC. (Shouldn’t it be called the Museum of the Native American?).
The idea for this activity is borrowed from the traditions of the Yakima tribe of Native Americans who still live in the eastern part of the state of Washington. Yakima, later renamed Yakama, is pronounced YACK-uh-maw, with a strong accent on the first syllable. In the past much of the tribe’s history was passed down from generation to generation by the women of the tribe using an oral tradition known as the time ball. New brides used hemp twine to record their life history starting with courtship. They tied different knots into the twine for days and weeks and added special beads for significant events. They then rolled the twine into a ball known as the “ititamat,” which means “counting the days” or “counting calendar.” The ball of twine grew in size as time passed and as events occurred. The women would sometimes divide the twine into 25-year lengths to make it more manageable. When the women were very old, they could use the knots and beads of their time balls to recall not only what happened in their lives but when the events occurred. They could easily recount when their children were born, when they moved away, and other major experiences. When a woman died, her “ititamat” or time ball was buried with her. (Bonnie M. Fountain )