String figures can be found in many different cultures across Asia, America and Europe. There seem to be two main groups: the European and Asiatic type, and the Oceanic and American type. Examples of the first type can be found from Korea to the East Indian Archipelago, and from Denmark to England in Europe. The Oceanic type was found from Australia to Polynesia, and various parts of America, including Alaska. Two facts seem to be significant: 1) the widely spread accompaniment of words or chants, and 2) the frequent representation of persons, incidents or objects connected with religion or mythology. These facts may suggest that they represent some symbolism that has over the course of time become obscured. One could speculate that the string figures are remnants of a lost art of communication of ancient peoples. This exhaustive study, a reprint of a 1905 study, contains more than 850 detailed and annotated drawings of string figures.
String Figures: A Study of Cat's-Cradle in Many Lands
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AuthorsJayne, Caroline Furness