This God Plays Dice


One of the blogs I subscribe to recently had a post on Indian casinos, and it makes reference to how some Navajo in 1997 were against casinos on the reservation due to the myth of the Gambler. This was a god named Noqoilpi (sometimes spelled Nohoilpi), who was portrayed in a negative light. Noqoilpi was the son of Tsohanoai, who carries the Sun across the sky on his back. Noqoilpi arrived on Earth in the area of Chaco Canyon in northern New Mexico, and taught the people games of chance.

He won every game in which he participated, and when he played against the people, he ended up winning all their possessions, and then the people themselves. They probably should have suspected something from a guy whose name means “he who wins men.” He set his slaves to work building a giant pueblo to his glory. It’s not entirely sure which now-ruined pueblo this is, but it seems to be most commonly associated with Pueblo Alto.

His original goal was to win some turquoise pieces, or possibly shells, for his father, but his greed led to his refusing to give them up. The dawn god Qastcealyci gathered a group of other deities and agreed that, basically, they’d cheat in order to bring down Noqoilpi, not that I think the Gambler was always on the up and up himself. They left the actual challenge to a Navajo man called He-Who-Is-Good-with-Numbers, and sabotaged the games so that he’d win.

Noqoilpi lost everything, and the victor used a bow he received from the gods to shoot the Gambler high into the sky. Some versions of the myth have Noqoilpi say he would return, which some thought would be fulfilled if the Navajo were to open casinos. Others claim that he was demoted to a Mexican god, and only received that honor through the intervention of the moon god Tklehanoai. So I guess gamblers never prosper, although you could say the real moral is to quit when you’re ahead, or not to gamble with someone who hasn’t shown themselves to be trustworthy.

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