Table of Contents - Volume 11, number 2 (June 2006) - 28 pages
A story accompanies this simple action figure from Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands. In it, a mother places her baby (first figure) in a hammock (second figure) just outside the house so that she can complete her daily chores undisturbed while the baby naps. But when the mother returns, she discovers that the baby has been kidnapped. According to legend, the mourning mother never again made another hammock.
This design belongs to a small family of string figures that requires the maker to rotate one hand a half turn to reveal the final pattern — in this case, a single diamond. That is because initially the frames lines are crossed and the pattern is hidden from view. Although awkward to perform, the half rotation successfully uncrosses the frame lines.
On the neighboring island of Niihau, this unique feature gives rise to a rather amusing alternative name for this figure: ‘Extreme Shyness’. Although the fellow’s movements are awkward, the shy one (represented here by a diamond) is eventually coaxed into view.
Cyclical string games, in which two or more figures appear over and over in an endless series, are rather uncommon. The Japanese ‘Cat’s Cradle’ series is perhaps the most famous example.
A double-walled diamond represents the female turtle. A single-walled diamond represents the male turtle.
‘Female Turtle, Male Turtle’ is a cyclical action series once known throughout the Society Islands and the adjacent Tuamotus. The series is typically performed by a single player who lays the final patterns on her lap between transformations. However, the series is easily adapted for two players, with one player taking the figure off the hands of a partner as in ‘Cat’s Cradle’.
In our last issue we featured an action figure from Melanesia called ‘Lightning’. Here is one from Polynesia. With each thunder clap a row a diamonds appears.
Like ‘Female Turtle, Male Turtle’ this figure is cyclical, but ironically, consists of only one pattern. The islanders call this figure kooi ui’a (‘wrist lightning’) to distinguish it from a second lightning figure that does not require wrist loops for its formation.
Dr. Emory declined to translate the title and chant associated with the second pair of designs in this two-part action series, probably because it is sexual in nature (a hole opens and closes).
The first pair of designs, although unnamed in the Tuamotus, is widely known in Polynesia, where it represents a sphincter (Hawaii, Pukapuka, Rapa), moving lips (Rarotonga) a sack-like net with a drawstring (New Zealand), or a cluster of hovering flies (Marquesas).
Like many Hawaiian string figures, the story associated with this three-part action series has several layers of meaning. Superficially, the series depicts a house whose roof collapses and is later repaired. On a more profound level, it represents the home of a happy family that is “broken” by a bitter divorce, then reunited once amends have been made.
It is interesting to note that Diamond Jenness collected a similar three-part series from the Inuit of eastern Siberia, who likewise claimed it represented a house being broken and repaired. But as expected, the method of construction is entirely different.
Throughout the Pacific, sliding string figures often represent fish or other sea creatures. This simple figure from the Tuamotus, which represents a pesky shark, is an excellent example.
The Tuamotu archipelago is comprised of 78 coral atolls, each resembling a shallow turquoise swimming pool in the middle of a deep ocean. In one or two places along the edge of the reef a deep pass will have opened to allow the tidal currents to enter and leave the central lagoon. Unfortunately, these passes also provide entry points for sharks, who love to feed in the calm waters of the lagoon. With only 16,000 permanent inhabitants in the Tuamotus, there are probably more sharks than people!
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