Table of Contents - Volume 12, number 1 (March 2007) - 28 pages
‘Osage Diamonds’, known today as ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ among American urbanites, is one of the most popular string figures in the world. Oddly, it is entirely unknown in regions where the art of making string figures is highly advanced (i.e., most western Pacific Islands and throughout the American Arctic).
Variations and continuations of this figure are equally popular. After forming ‘Jacob’s Ladder’, many American children will proceed to make ‘Eiffel Tower’ and ‘Witch’s Hat’ (as described in Camilla Gryski’s first book).
Here’s an amusing continuation from Africa. To make the caterpillar crawl, the figure is held parallel to the ground and the wrists are rotated so that the central vertical loop expands and contracts.
In order to display most string figures effectively the upper and lower frame lines must be separated as far as possible. Pacific Islanders invented the Caroline Extension as a means of doing this, but Africans favored the Mija Extension, in which loops on index and middle fingers are manipulated (see Carey C.K. Smith’s article in BISFA 4).
‘Leopard’s Mouth’ is displayed using a variation of the Mija Extension. Instead of loops on index and middle fingers, loops on index and wrist are manipulated. The resulting figure is a big, bold, central diamond that contracts and expands with each waggle of the hands.
In the June 1998 issue of String Figure Magazine we featured a Nigerian string figure that represents a gun. The final figure is very similar to the figure described here, from Ghana, but the method is completely different. Furthermore, this gun is capable of firing two shots (left middle finger releases two loops in rapid succession).
String figures are most often formed on the hands, but occasionally they require the assistance of the mouth, toes, knees, neck, or elbows.
Here’s an action string figure from Africa that requires the assistance of the chin.
The central loops that encircle the upper frame line represent their heads. Because the lions are facing each other they are said to be fighting (involved in a staring match). To make the lions crouch and roar, the thumbs repeatedly tug on double side strings.
‘The Reversal’ from Mozambique is closely related to the previous figure from the same country, but the method of extension is entirely different. Fans of Jayne’s book will recognize the crossed-arm extension as that of ‘Flint and Steel’ from Yap in Micronesia.
The story that accompanies this figure evokes much laughter because of its universal appeal: nearly everyone knows a lazy teenager. The first figure represents a reclining teenager — a lazy girl who does not want to get up to work. The second figure represents the same girl who finally got up when she was called. In Mozambique they say “the girl would get up to take her food, but would go back to her mat if called upon to do some work.”
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