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Traditional Game, Soñigivul, on Display

The game of sonigivul played at the Salt River Community Garden on a recent evening. The game is played without shoes and socks.

They stood together, shoeless and sockless and ready. They counted down in O’odham and then off they ran, playing soñigivul on the evening of October 11 in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.

Soñigivul is a traditional men’s game in which participants use their feet to move a small, circular item, a little larger than a baseball, as quickly as possible. Rules of the game vary. On this evening, participants raced each other on dirt, each with a ball, for about 50 yards in an open space at the Community Garden. The ball, usually hard like a billiard ball, is generally made from wood or volcanic stone and covered in mesquite sap.

Five Community members participated this night, including instructor Gabriel Martinez. The event was part of a three-day class hosted by the Cultural Resources Department. Participation numbers fluctuated each evening, with a class limit of 12 participants; players are age 10 and older.

“It’s a race, but at the same time there is discipline in it,” Martinez said. “You have to keep control of [the ball]. You have to flick it, get your foot under it, like a hacky sack. If you kick it head-on, like a soccer ball, you get bruised up. I’ve heard of people breaking toes.”

Jonathan Curry playing the traditional men's game, sonigivul. Curry was one of a few participants to take part in a recent class.
The game has been around for many years, Martinez said. O’odham distance runners used the ball to help them keep pace while taking messages from village to village. Martinez said he heard stories of races among villages, some of them going for up to 20 miles.

The class is part of an effort to boost Community interest in soñigivul, with hopes of possibly forming a team to compete regularly or in a tournament. Perhaps Salt River could even host a tournament, like they do on the Gila River Indian Community and Ak-Chin Indian Community.

To learn more about activities or events hosted by the SRPMIC Cultural Resources Department, visit or call (480) 362-6325.