ISFA News, Volume 1, no. 1 (July, 1995)

A Special Thanks!

Thanks to all who supported the publication of BISFA, vol. 1, last year with their membership dues, especially those who contributed above and beyond the requested $25 amount. As a result of your generosity, we were able to cover 75% of our printing and distribution costs — not bad for the first year!

Welcome New Members

ISFA continues to grow. Since January, the following new members have joined our ranks: Richard Darsie, Davis, California; Daniel McCarthy, Riverside, California; Barbara Schutz-Gruber, Ann Arbor, Michigan; John Sigwald, Plainview, Texas; and Aaria Troiano, Bayside, Wisconsin. Each brings their own area of expertise to ISFA. Please join me in welcoming them.

Update on BISFA publicity campaign

String figure enthusiasts are everywhere. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of them know about ISFA and our Bulletin! Advertising is great for those who can afford it. But for non-profit organizations like ISFA, free publicity is the key to survival. Since January, the editors of BISFA have been working hard to publicize our new periodical. We have divided the task into four phases:

Phase 1
The first phase involved registration: BISFA now has an International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) as recommended by the ISSN International Center is Paris. BISFA is also listed in Ulrich’s International Periodicals Directory, the most frequently consulted source for information on serial publications, and in Librarians’ Handbook, published by EBSCO subscription services. Librarians’ Handbook is distributed to over 25,000 libraries worldwide, and many libraries order all of their periodicals through EBSCO.

BISFA was also registered with various abstracting and indexing services, some of which are now computerized. Look for BISFA in Sociological Abstracts (San Diego), Anthropological Literature (Harvard University), and Anthropological Index to Current Periodicals (Museum of Mankind, London), EthnoArts Index (Seattle), Internationale Volkskundliche (Bonn), and South Pacific Periodicals Index (Fiji). Contracts with other services are pending. We also signed a contract with UMI, the largest supplier of periodicals on microfilm. UMI also offers photocopies of individual articles, and can even supply them in digital format over the Internet. Finally, ISFA itself is now listed in Encyclopedia of Associations, published by Gale Research.

Phase 2
The second phase of our BISFA publicity campaign involved sending review copies and/or brochures to the book review editors of other scholarly publications. Book reviews are free if your periodical is selected, and are more widely respected than paid advertisements. Over 100 journals and newsletters specializing in anthropology, folklore, arts and crafts, social sciences, recreation, ethnic studies, Pacific studies, and history were notified. Published reviews will be cited in the next issue of this newsletter.

Phase 3
The third phase, now well underway, involves the distribution of brochures to public, university, and museum libraries worldwide. So far, brochures have been sent to all libraries in North America that subscribe to 10,000 or more periodicals. Future mailings will target similar libraries outside the US, as well as specialized libraries with smaller budgets.

Phase 4
Perhaps the most fruitful avenue for free publicity will involve publicizing ISFA over the Internet — the so-called information superhighway. Richard Darsie and Mark Sherman are currently working on an ISFA “home page” to be posted on the World-Wide-Web. Anyone in the world with a computer, a modem, a “web-browser” program, and a connection to the Internet will be able to locate us and interactively view an illustrated document describing string figures, our Bulletin, how to join ISFA, and how to obtain back-issues. Eventually, we hope to incorporate an abridged String Figure Bibliography and perhaps electronic versions of all previous Bulletins. Our permanent Internet address (URL) has not yet been assigned. For now, you can access us through Richard Darsie’s homepage. His URL access code is:

Richard’s homepage includes a marvelous collection of string figures, complete with drawings and instructions, (it was also the first string figure document on the Web).

If you have any additional ideas about how to publicize ISFA and our Bulletin, let us know!

String Figures alive and well on Easter Island

Anthropologist and rock art specialist Georgia Lee visits Easter Island each year during the annual Tapati Festival. Concerning string figures (kai-kai), Dr. Lee writes, “I have been a fascinated ‘watcher’ of kai-kai events on the island for years. During Tapati, entire sessions of kai-kai go on for hours with islanders (from youngsters to elders) watching every move intently. Woe be unto she who makes a mistake: the audience whistles and boos her off the stage. Those who do it well are applauded and cheered. I am always amazed by the number of islanders who seem to be seriously involved in kai-kai.” She closes her letter (dated Oct. 4, 1994) by stating that Amelia Tepano died a year ago. Dr. Lee is editor and publisher of Rapa Nui Journal, published quarterly. For subscription information write: P.O. Box 6774, Los Osos, California, 93412-6774.

Farewell to Guy Mary-Rousseličre

Father Guy Mary-Rousseličre, author of Les Jeux de Ficelle des Arviligjuarmiut (String Figures of the Pelly Bay Eskimos), passed away on April 23, 1994 at the age of 81. “Father Mary” was the victim of a fire that destroyed his northern mission at Pond Inlet, Baffin Island, Canada. His 1969 monograph is among the most scholarly and professionally written works on string figures ever published, and presents convincing evidence that many Eskimo string figures are over 1000 years old (for an English translation of Part II, see Bulletin of String Figures Association, No. 18, 1992). Details of his life in the Arctic can be found in the journal Eskimo, Nos. 47, 48, and 49 (1994-95).

Bulletin of String Figures Association: Price of back issues reduced

Bulletin of String Figures Association (Tokyo: Nippon Ayatori Kyokai) was published in 19 volumes from 1978 to 1993. The entire series (1318 pages) is undoubtedly the most impressive collection of string figure knowledge ever assembled. It is therefore not surprising that the demand for back issues remains high, especially among new members of ISFA.

Unfortunately, the supply of back-issues was exhausted long ago (for many issues only 100 copies were printed). Several years ago, the entire series was transferred to microfiche in an effort to provide an economical means of distributing back-issues. But the microfiche edition has never been terribly popular since home-viewing devices are rather uncommon.

Since 1994, ISFA Press has been offering high-quality photocopies of back issues at less than cost. The complete set (including Tom Storer’s two-volume special issue) has been offered at US $75 plus shipping and handling ($11.25 within the US, $15.75 overseas) — no small purchase! Recently, however, we’ve been able to prepare a reduced photocopy master having two pages per side (four pages per sheet). As a result, we can now offer the entire set for $49.00 plus shipping and handling ($7.00 within the US, $13.00 overseas). Eventually, we hope to offer back issues free of charge over the Internet. Instructions for downloading the files will appear in a future issue of ISFA News.

Plans for an on-line String Figure Magazine

String figure enthusiasts typically fall into one of three categories: novice, intermediate, and advanced. Currently, there are several excellent books on the market that address the novice (see, for example, Gryski’s books). For the advanced student, there’s BISFA and a multitude of papers tucked away in obscure scholarly journals. But for the intermediate-level student (one who still requires illustrations of key intermediate steps), there’s not much besides Jayne!

A second periodical that addresses the needs of the intermediate-level enthusiast is therefore desirable. Unfortunately, financing a second series is currently beyond our means, especially one that is heavily illustrated. However, thanks to recent advances in electronic publishing, it’s now possible to publish full-color, heavily-illustrated documents on the Internet at little cost to the publisher. Richard Darsie’s on-line string figure collection is a prime example of what can be done utilizing this new technology.

String Figure Magazine (for lack of a better name) would feature step-by-step, illustrated instructions for making a wide variety of figures extracted from the literature — no mathematical analyses, no anthropological overtones, just plain string figures. Figures that are difficult to make from their original descriptions, or appear in journals that are now hard to find, would enjoy new life. Descriptions originally published in languages other than English could appear in translation. And finally, SFM could serve as a forum for showcasing noteworthy examples of newly invented figures (for example, Yukio Shisido’s creations). As with BISFA, everyone would be welcome to contribute.

So, if you’re good with computer-based drawing programs, or simply interested in developing new and novel methods for illustrating string figure construction methods, volunteer to serve as an editor of SFM.

“String Figures of Nauru Island” to be reprinted

The University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji, recently agreed to reprint Honor Maude’s “The String Figures of Nauru Island.” Demand for this classic volume has remained high ever since the first edition appeared in 1971 as part of a series published by the Libraries Board of South Australia (Occasional Papers in Asian and Pacific Studies, no. 2). Ironically, most copies were bought by Nauruans in an effort to revitalize their dying art form.

Most string figure enthusiasts agree that the string figures made on Nauru Island are among the most beautiful ever created. Inspired by the illustrations in the back of Jayne’s “String Figures” (1906), Honor Maude visited the island in 1937 hoping to record methods of construction. Remarkably, Mrs. Maude was able to record instructions for making 120 figures, including many of those appearing in Jayne.

Details on ordering the reprint edition will appear in a future issue of ISFA News. Also note that a few surviving copies of the first edition were recently donated to ISFA Press by Honor Maude in an effort to help us raise funds for publishing our Bulletin. The asking price is US $35 per copy.

A Call for Papers

The deadline for submitting manuscripts for publication in BISFA, vol. 2, is rapidly approaching! All material must be received by September 1 in order to meet our November 1 printing deadline. Please consult the inside back cover of vol. 1 for information on how to prepare your contribution. Papers need not be lengthy or overly technical! Personal narratives are encouraged. Illustrations are best submitted in the form of photographs or actual specimens taped to a sheet of paper (see Engelhardt’s illustrations in vol. 1). If you like, these can be converted to line drawings electronically. Keep it simple and have fun!

The Importance of Modern String Figures

In requesting papers, the editor wishes to emphasize the importance of documenting and preserving modern string figures—string figures invented by you, the reader. Figures invented centuries ago by tribal people living in remote regions are indeed fascinating and of great value in tracing the evolution of the art form over time. However, it is important to realize that the evolutionary process did not cease with the passing of the so-called “traditional webweavers.” In fact, the string figure repertoire continues to evolve as we speak, but now mostly in living rooms, office buildings, and schoolyards around the world. In a sense, the members of ISFA constitute a new tribe of webweavers—but one without geographic boundaries. And now, rather than taking years to diffuse across a region, new designs reach other enthusiasts in days thanks to advances in global communication. This, in turn, accelerates the evolutionary process as enthusiasts incorporate the work of their colleagues into their own designs. The ultimate fate of the global string figure repertoire is therefore in your hands. Participate in its evolution by submitting your inventions to our Bulletin!

Forthcoming Articles

BISFA, vol. 2 promises to be as interesting as our premier issue. Sam Cannarozzi-Yada has contributed a delightful article entitled “From Ethnological Curiosity back to Full-Fledged Performing Art.” In it, Sam describes how he brings string figures to life in his stage performances. Joseph D’Antoni is using his extensive knowledge of Nauru construction techniques to solve some of the most elaborate string figures ever recorded— the “Captain Garcia” figures found in the back of Honor Maude’s Nauru book. His paper also includes construction methods for many of the unsolved Nauru figures in Jayne’s book. This paper is not to be missed! Meanwhile, Honor Maude and Mark Sherman are preparing a revised edition of McCarthy’s “The String Figures of Yirrkalla.” As you may have already discovered, most of the figures in this paper cannot be made from the descriptions! If you have not already done so, renew your ISFA membership today to reserve your copy of this interesting volume.

Last updated October 15, 1996
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