The Arctic String Figure Project

Inuit (Eskimo) string figures are among the most difficult figures to make from written descriptions. The figures are often asymmetric, requiring different moves on each hand. During their formation the arms frequently point away from you with fingers closed to the palm. This makes terms like near, far, upper, and lower difficult to interpret. Many require the retrieval of strings from the center or sides of the design, a maneuver that is difficult to describe in the absence of an illustration. As a result, most Inuit string figures are inaccessible to beginners, and many even elude experienced enthusiasts.

ISFA therefore announces the "Arctic String Figure Project." The term "Arctic" has been chosen since the term "Inuit" does not accurately describe all of the native inhabitants of Alaska and Siberia. The primary goal of the project is to rewrite (in English) all of the descriptions previously published by Gordon (1906), Jenness (1924), Victor (1940), Paterson (1949), and Mary-Rousselière (1969), clarifying ambiguous passages and illustrating key intermediate stages as needed. Illustrations showing the final figure extended on the hands will also be generated since only Victor provides them.

We are also interested in unpublished material (manuscripts and film footage): if you know of any, please contact us. If and when we obtain funding, we also hope to visit several poorly characterized regions (Southern Alaska, St. Lawrence Island, the Aleutian Islands, Labrador, and Lappland) to gather additional figures before they disappear completely. If you are currently doing field work or living in the North and would like to participate, please contact us!

Literature Cited

Last updated December 30, 2011
Return to ISFA Home Page.