Cat's Cradle

Night Fires by Jeanne Rager

How to Do Cat's Cradle

My tangle with string began at a garage sale last summer. I was about to turn and walk away, when my eye caught a booklet with the words, 'Cat's cradle' on it.

It immediately brought to mind the long-forgotten game of my childhood. Could such a book be possible? I couldn't believe it, but there it was. I snatched it off the table, for I certainly deemed it a treasure.

The book was like new and even came with it's own pretty string. I could hardly wait to get home to see if I could remember how to do any of the patterns I knew as a young girl. That was wishful thinking.

Time after time I tried, only to end up in the tangled web of my opening sentence. A week went by before I was able to do three elementary patterns. They were; cup and saucer, the Eiffel Tower, and the witch's broom, and not one was performed with any dexterity. I felt like a klutz, but the real let down was yet to come.

In the front of the booklet was a brief note about string games among the American Indians, mainly the Inuit. Maybe it was the result of the their living through those long days and nights of the subarctic, I don't know, but the book described them as masters of the string game.

Using reindeer sinew, they created wolves and reindeer even making reindeer that could walk from one hand to the other. Some pictures they made showed moveable dancing figures and animals fighting. Of course, such figures required more than two hands. Complicated scenes frequently brought into play both feet and the mouth as well.

Would you believe that the Inuit made well over a hundred string games?

No one is really sure how string games began among the Indians. While the games show up in mostly western and subarctic locations, they were also very popular with the Cherokee in the southeast. Not only that, each particular tribe had its' own story, as to how the games came to be.

The Navajo believed that their string games were handed down to them by Spider Woman. They called their games NA-ASH-KLO, their way of saying, 'continuous weaving'. Isn't that what spiders do? The Navajo's created string patterns of star groups like the Pleiades, indicating both their interest and knowledge of astronomy.

Other tribes that played string games, or used them for teaching and storytelling were the Omaha, Pawnee, Lakota, Sac, Fox and Zuni. Unfortunately, all too little is told about this fascinating 'art form', if you will, in books about Indians.

Buy at
Portrait of an Inuit child
Paul Damien
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I am still working on those simple patterns I learned last summer, but I no longer have dreams of impressing anyone but myself.

Perhaps someday this intricate art will be revived and shown at powwows. What a wonderful idea. I, for one, would love to see it performed. How about you?

Grandmother Two Bears.

This story and many mores stories are now available in the new book The Story Teller by Grandmother Two Bears. To order the Grandmother Two Bears book, use the following button.

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