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Native American Web Weaving


Continued from product description on Native American's Page Three...

Historical Background: Web weaving, or using the hands to make "string figures" with a loop of cord, predates recorded history. Because of this, the origin of string figures is unknown. Evidence of string figures can be found in nearly all native cultures of the Americas (North, Central, and South), East Asia, Africa, Australia, the Arctic region, and the Pacific Islands. Prehistoric drawings suggest string figures have been made since Man learned to tie the ends of a string!

The purpose of making string figures varied from place to place. Sometimes string figures were made just for fun while also proving an artistic outlet. One can easily imagine the need to relax and entertain after a day of dangerous hunting and tedious gathering. In many native cultures, string figures were used by tribal storytellers to illustrate their tales. Other cultures created string figures to serve as good luck charms. These "string charms" were used to ward off bad spirits, ask the spirits for a bountiful harvest, or guarantee a successful hunting expedition.

String figures were also used to teach tribal traditions and practices. Storytellers around the world used string figures to teach lessons through their stories of spirits, people, animals, and places. String figures, stories and chants were used together to teach, worship, and entertain. In teaching, string figures may very well have been the world's first visual aid -- thousands of years before clay tablets and chalkboards!

The number of possible string figures is theoretically limitless. Loops can be small or large. The larger the string loop, the more types of string figures can be made. Larger loops also allowed two or more sets of hands to create complex figures and share the fun! (Who knows? String figures may have been our earliest form of group participation games!) Since the time when anthropologist Franz Boas first described how to make an Eskimo string figure in 1888, instructions have been written for over 2,000 traditional patterns! Of course, this does not include all the patterns that have been forgotten over the millennia.

Fun Fact: In Hawaii, the art of string figures is called Hei (a snare, stratagem, or ruse; to ensnare, entangle, or catch in a net).

Fun Fact: The Navaho used string figures to teach about the stars. Many string figure patterns relate to the sun, moon, and stars. Perhaps this is partly because string figures have been used throughout the ancient world. Early navigators learned to "read the night sky" and spread the use of string figures to distant places.

Fun Fact: String figures are sometimes referred to as "unknots." Can you see why and how string figures may have led early Man to invent various knots? How about geometric designs painted on ancient pottery?

For more information, please see the historical background for our Cat's Cradle & Other String Games (3014).

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Native American Web Weaving
Native American Web Weaving
Item Number 6102

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