“A story is like a line, a wire between the teller and the listener. Both people hold each end of it, and the story walks on that wire between them.”
-Donald Davis, Author/Storyteller
Like many of you, I played string games games when I was a child. I have memories of sitting on our back porch steps, attempting to master cat's cradle, jacob's ladder and many others - all with varying degrees of success. A few years ago I was delighted to find a string game "kit" of sorts, for sale locally. I purchased it for my children, and then set them free with the book of illustrated instructions and some nylon chord. It held their interest for a little while, but then the string ended up lost or under the couch (I think I actually saw one of our cats tossing it around the other evening).
During my excavations into storytelling this summer, I discovered something about those string games of my childhood. Unbeknownst to me, this pastime is part of a tradition much deeper and more rich than simply being amusing games. String games have ancient origins ...
"String figures and string stories have been around for almost as long as people have been on earth. It is impossible to name a continent which does not have its own set of figures representing the people, objects and animals found there. The Navajo used string figures as a way to encourage the memorization needed for the complicated patterns involved in weaving and sand painting. Some cultures used figures as astronomical devices. Other cultures used them in religious ceremonies."
-Sally Crandall, Telling Stories with String
This discovery led me down a deep rabbit hole on YouTube, as I looked for examples.
Here, Sally Crandall uses string to tell an Inuit story, Totanguak. In it, one of the characters uses ancient string figures to try and collect the soul of a young boy.
In another example, storyteller Anne Glover works with a group of teachers who are learning to tell stories with string.
I was also completely enchanted by my discovery of Rodrigo Libanio Christo, a masterful Brazilian singing storyteller!
It was hard for me not to be inspired (and honestly, to feel a tad inadequate) after watching these masters at work. More than anything, however, I became even more dedicated to honing my own storytelling skills. My hope is that it has the same effect on you :)
PS. Jospeh D'Antoni has a series of great videos in which he gives instructions for making many string figures to use in stories. (including a string figure SNEEZE, which I may or may not have watched several times simply because it made me laugh).
PPS. Looking for more support & inspiration around storytelling? Reserve your storytelling kit here, and be the first to know when they're ready for purchase!