The ancient, noble, and downright puzzling Scottish sport of "sweeping the ice for a rock" is known *here* as curling, but the folk of The Baptized are still waiting for a suitable Scots term to emerge. This article won't try to answer that conundrum, but it will tell you all about a fascinating, enjoyable, and just as puzzling warm-weather variant on "the rairin game": whummlin.
Scottish colonists in Jacobia, in the southeastern part of North America, faced a real dilemma: their new home had no ice-- even in the winter, it was rare to see even a few crystals floating in a pond. Without ice, they seemed doomed never to play their beloved game as long as they remained in Jacobia. Saddened, they were ready to resign themselves to playing nothing but "tossing a tree" and "chasing a tiny ball to hit it with a stick," two Scottish games which were both ancient and noble, but not quite as puzzling.
Then, in what one historian has described "the most serendipitous product of that great cultural exchange betwixt the Old World and the New," the Scottish colonists discovered that their new neighbors played a game that was in many ways quite similar to their own "sweeping the ice". The game is called chunkey in most Native languages. It is played between two players on a hard patch of ground sprinkled with fine sand. One player rolls a stone, disc-shaped and three to six inches in diameter. Both players run after it for a few yards and then throw spears toward the spot where they think the stone will stop rolling. Whoever lands his spear nearest the stone's stopping point wins the round.
Once a few Scotsmen had obtained some chunkey stones through barter, it was a rather small step to use them in a game similar to the one they had known back in Scotland. Two teams of four compete against each other. Rather than play with one stone, the players use eight per team, which they take turns rolling toward a point at the far end of the playing area. After both teams have delivered eight rocks, the team with the rock closest to the mark is awarded one point for each of its own rocks that is closer than the opponent's closest rock.
Chunkey was missing two elements crucial to the original Scottish game: sweeping and heavy drinking. The latter posed a real problem initially. Since chunkey stones were treasured heirlooms in Native culture, often centuries old, the colonists paid dearly to obtain them and for a while faced a severe whisky shortage. The former was more easily accomodated: sweeping the sandy surface can greatly affect a rolling chunkey stone. Sweeping sand away to make a furrow of bare, hard earth can speed the stone up, while heaping sand in front of it can change its course or bring it to a stop. Since a rolling whummlin stone moves a good deal faster than a sliding rock on the ice, the sweepers in whummlin have to run at almost breakneck speed to keep up with it, resulting in a rather fast-paced game.
They called their game whummlin, a Scots word meaning "rolling" or "spinning". It spread quickly among the Jacobian colonists, especially once they began quarrying and fashioning their own stones, larger than the chunkey stones but smaller than the behemoths that you'd slide across the ice. Many of their Native neighbors also adopted the game, in particular (surprising though it may be to those accustomed to thinking of "sweeping the ice" as a manly enterprise) women. Chunkey was based on spear-throwing, a warrior skill, and culturally it was associated with extravagant gambling-- placing it solidly in the world of men. Whummlin, on the other hand, used no spears, and culturally it was mostly associated with drinking whisky in the morning, which does not seem to have posed any kind of gender barrier. Even today, whummlin is often considered a women's sport among Native Americans, and men who play whummlin usually find themselves having to justify and rationalize their pastime to their friends.
Whummlin spread to the other Scottish colonies: Alba Nuadh, Rhode Island, Oxbridge; and to the large Scots-speaking communities elsewhere in the fledgling North American League. Someone even brought it back to Scotland. There it faced a negative reaction from folk who believed that "sweeping for a rock is for the winter. Keep summertime for tossing a tree and chasing a tiny ball to hit it with a stick." Still, whummlin eventually gathered a following in the mother country as well as sunny Kingsland, where the game has grown into something of an obsession. It has become popular in some places outside the Scotiophone world as well, notably the NAL, the Floridas, Louisianne, Kemr, England, and non-Scottish Australasia. But Jacobia remains the warm, beating heartland of the game and host of the most prestigious international competition.
As the game spread into the backwoods, people began to play a simpler version that did not require sand or brooms. Nae-soop whummlin (no-sweep whummlin), also known as "puir-man whummlin" (poor-man whummlin), has a following of its own and is played alongside the conventional game at many tournaments. However, it has never been considered as refined as soop whummlin, or "gentie whummlin". Its advantage is that it can be played anywhere-- backyards, open fields, schoolyards, outside pubs-- and many Scots have remarked that in this way it captures the spirit of the original game, played outside on frozen lochs and rivers. Except for those who come from families full of whummlers (actually quite common), puir-man whummlin represents most people's introduction to the game.