Table of Contents - Volume 6, number 4 (December 2001) - 24 pages
Dissolving a string figure can be a frustrating experience. Oftentimes knots form. But rather than discourage this natural tendency, why not make a game of it!
In ‘Flies on Flypaper’ a well-known string figure (‘Jacob’s Ladder’) is partially dissolved to give a rectangular design with knots along the margin. Each knot represents a fly. The number of flies you catch -- two, one, or none at all -- depends on how quickly you dissolve the figure and the type of string you are using.
Most string figures collapse if you over-extend them. But not this one from New Zealand: the tighter you pull, the better it gets! That’s because two knots are an important part of the design.
This amusing action figure features two hanging loops, each suspended from a knot. One loop represents a man, while the other represents a woman. Tugging on the single continuous frame line causes the man to chase the woman. The hanging loops can slide because the two knots keep string locked within the central design.
According to legend, this figure was once used to capture a criminal. Upon viewing the figure and its associated action the disguised criminal laughed. In doing so, he exposed a missing tooth and revealed his true identity.
String figures requiring two loops are uncommon, but even rarer are figures requiring a single loop plus a length of string which is threaded through the final design and tied off to form a frame. In the September 1997 issue we featured one from New Zealand (‘Cobweb’). Here’s one from the Marquesas Islands.
The seven diamonds, framed by two triangles, represent the Pleiades or Seven Sisters, an easily recognized star cluster in the constellation Taurus.
‘Jackhammer’ is a simple action figure whose up-and-down motion mimics the modern power tool used for breaking up cement, concrete, and asphalt. It is the same as a traditional action figure from Nauru called Dowererperep (a nonsense word that is chanted as the figure is worked), but the method of construction is entirely different.
Lapland is not a nation, but a region within the Arctic circle that stretches across the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia’s Kola peninsula. It is named after the Lapp people, who have been hunting and herding reindeer there for several thousand years. Today Sami is the preferred name since Lapp is somewhat derogatory (Lapp means "patch for mending tattered clothes").
According to Yves Delaporte the Sami don’t know many string figures, but they are quite fond of string tricks. The trick described here, which requires two players, is also known among the Pawnee Indians of North America, the Maori of New Zealand, Gypsies living in England, and various sailors.
We began this issue with a knotless figure that dissolves in an interesting way (knots form along the margins). We end this issue with a knotted figure that also dissolves in an interesting way (the knot breaks apart!).
In this string figure from the Gilbert Islands (Kiribati), your hand chops at the middle of the figure until a knot dissolves. The chopping motion represents an ax going up and down, and the separating strings represent a log splitting apart.
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