Table of Contents - Volume 7, number 3 (September 2002) - 24 pages
Simple action figures are always impressive, but not always easy to invent. ‘Ringing Bell’ was created last December by Urs Schäfer, a 12-year-old boy who regularly attends Axel Reichert’s Schnurfiguren-Arbeitsgemeinsschaft (String Figure Work Group) after school. The figure was inspired by the traditional holiday song "Jingle Bells."
Almost everyone knows the ‘Opening A Trick’ -- you know, the one that goes "stick your hand through the middle." At first the victim’s hand is caught, but if the opening is repeated and the hand is inserted from the opposite side, the victim’s hand is freed. It’s therefore classified as a catch and a release.
Here’s a related release that’s not widely known. It likewise starts with Opening A.
Here’s yet another Opening A trick. It is set up just like the Miwok trick described on pages 5 and 6. but instead of being a release, this one is a catch.
The native name for this trick is sele paala, which means ‘Catching a King Mackerel.’
Of the many figures in Jayne’s classic book, the Navajo ‘Worm’ described on pages 222-228 is probably the most difficult to make. The last few steps are awkward, mechanical, and hard to remember. In 1999, nearly a hundred years after Jayne published her description, Will Wirt visited the Navajo reservation and watched several Navajo elders perform this figure. The method they used seemed far more natural and easier to remember.
All the elders Will met called this figure Wósizíní, which means ‘Standing Measuring Worm’. Medicine Man Mike Mitchell explained that measuring worms cannot crawl backwards: when a measuring worm runs into a tall object it "stands up" in order to turn around.
Today most Navajo kids call this figure the ‘Letter I’. However, one fellow told Will that it also represents a baby strapped to a cradleboard.
German ethnographer Wilhelm Kissenberth spent the years 1908-1911 exploring tributaries of the Amazon in Brazil. While there, he collected string figures from the Tapirapé and Karajá Indians and sewed them on cards. Unfortunately he did not record how the figures were made.
In the late-1990s, anthropology student Chang Whan revisited the Karajá to see if they still remembered any of the string figures they showed Kissenberth over 90 years ago. Remarkably, they still knew how to make 50 different string figures, and Chang Whan was able to write down how to make 28 of them.
Among the figures Chan Whan learned was a design called ‘Belly of the Blind Snake’. The Indians who showed this figure to Kissenberth called it ‘Praying Mantis’. Now, after 90 years of not knowing how it was made, we can finally make and enjoy this splendid design!
In her classic book, Mrs. Jayne included a popular Inuit string figure called ‘Cariboo’ from Baffin Island, Canada. The asymmetrical design is static and appears near the left hand. But according to a report by John Murdoch, who visited the Inuit of Alaska in the 1880s, the women made a "very clever representation of a reindeer which runs from one hand to the other." Could it be that they altered the method so that ‘Cariboo’ became an action figure?
Unfortunately we will never know. Perhaps they merely slid the finished caribou toward the center and re-extended. But recently, ISFA member Michael Taylor devised a way to make the Caribou run without having to adjust the final design. The effect is magical!
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