Annotated String Figure Bibliography

Richard Ratajczak, Sydney, Australia

My inspiration for an annotated bibliography of string figures dates back several years, when, at the Australian Museum, Sydney, I accidentally "discovered" a wonderful book, which sparked my curiosity and then lasting enthusiasm for string figures. The book is Kwakiutl String Figures by Julia Averkieva and Mark Sherman (1992). The book is beautifully presented, with brilliant analyses, numerous cross-references and a substantial list of references, in which there is mention of a string figure bibliography compiled by Tom Storer (1985).

My curiosity swelled even more. I soon became a member of the International String Figure Association and received Storer's bibliography as part of the "package". I was very much impressed by the number of entries and variety of materials listed there. Because of that I immediately developed a wish to make it into an annotated bibliography. It was only natural that I would take Tom Storer's bibliography as a base. His ability to find even the most obscure references is truly staggering. I was fascinated particularly by Siberian figures, and my patriotic feelings were aroused when I spotted a reference to Bronislaw Malinowski's Sexual Life of the Savage, where he briefly discusses the importance of certain string figures in sexual behaviour of young people in the Trobriand Islands. I soon realised how rich and exciting the material was, and my project expanded. Now I think that the number of known and recorded figures is big enough to warrant a separate taxonomy, where particular figures would be classified systematically just like plants are.

Meanwhile my aim has been to create three interconnected lists. First, a straight annotated bibliography of all known string figures references, articles, books, pictures, videos, etc. Second, a list of all known names of string figures, with references to relevant publications and geographical locations. Third, a list of all relevant geographical locations, tribes and localities, and perhaps other considerations, such as themes, with references to the publications in which they are referred to. It's a daunting task, as the number of recorded figures is rather staggering, and there are many parallels in the names of different figures, and their alternative executions. It has to be stressed that in this bibliography I deal solely with the publications pertaining to string figures and to the names of the figures featured in the publications, not with the figures as such. Keen string figure practitioners and enthusiasts will no doubt find that the number of figure names doesn't reflect the number of actual figures, as many identical figures are named differently in various localities, and by different people. I expect that ideas for projects to classify all existing string figures, in a systematic or taxonomic order, already abound. It is my hope that this annotated bibliography, together with two remaining parts of the project, however slowly it progresses, will be of some help to those who want to embark on that grand classification effort, but also to all string figure enthusiasts whose interest in string figures has an extension past mere finger manipulations.

The first part of this three-part project, an annotated bibliography, is a standard list of publications directly referring, or alluding to string figures, containing publishing data (i.e., author, title, and source), short comment about the content of the publication, and names of the figures featured in the publication (including translations of the names, and their meaning, but only if given in the publication). Below you will find the 40 pages of text I have compiled so far. The entries are in alphabetic order by author, followed by year of publication and title of publication, or article, etc., followed by title of source (if applicable). In the next field there is a comment or annotation, which I tried to keep compact and without personal bias. The last field, capital letters within the square brackets, is a summary of reference content. It's a kind of shortcut for people looking for specific things. For example, if one is interested in articles containing comparative tables, all one has to do is to look for 'T' in the last field, at the bottom of each reference. A 'Y' means there are no figure names in the article, etc. The legend of letters and what they signify, is an integral part of this bibliography. There are two other fields, "Fid.:" or Figure-in-detail, and "Fit.:" or Figure-in-text. They may or may not be included in the references. There are quite a number of publications referring to string figures in general, without referring to any particular figures, or they contain names of figures, but no detail. Generally, if a publication contains instruction for, or detailed description of figures, and their names, the names will be listed in the "Fid.:" field. If a publication lists the names of figures only, the names will be in the "Fit.:" field.

This annotated bibliography is very much a work in progress, and I hope it will remain so forever. The literature on string figures is constantly growing, as new pieces are being created all the time, and new references fished out from past publications. Because of its ever-changing format, this bibliography is best left in electronic (digital) form, to be viewed or printed by the end-user on their personal computer as needed. Thanks to widespread internet access in recent years, digital documents are now becoming a reality. Another advantage of publishing in this format is the ability one gains to quickly search the text for key words and phrases. This is easily accomplished using the "Find" feature of a web browser or word-processing program. With the stroke of a key one can instantly locate all references to string figures from Alaska, string figures accompanied by chants, recently-invented string figures, or whatever other information has been classified using one-letter codes. The codes I have devised so far are as follows:

A - Analysis
B - Bibliography
C - Comment
D - Drawings of stages
E - Translation of figure names (as in dictionary
F - Drawings of finished figures
G - Geographical references, tribes, localities
H - Historical references
I - Instructions
J - Vernacular stories, anecdotes, chants
K - Photographs of stages
L - Letter
M - Modern figures, recently invented
N - Note, passim reference, anecdote
O - Original figures invented by author
P - Photographs of finished figures
Q - Diacritics used in figure names
R - Review
S - References to other sources
T - Comparative tables
U - Descriptions of figures
V - Variations of technique
W - Literary work
X - Variations of spelling in figure names
Y - No figure names
Z - Figure names included

Literature Cited

Richard Ratajczak is a library assistant in the Rare Books & Special Collections Library, University of Sydney. In 1996 he organized a string figure exhibition (see last year's Bulletin, pages 219-223).

Last updated December 20, 1998
Return to ISFA home page